REVIEW: Ke Sabroso by José León

Unmistakable Latin over layers of soul, Jazz and Flamenco, the artist has evolved each style and made a sound that was always meant to be.

Ke Sabroso

Crisscrossing traditions, straddling them skilfully, creating sounds that will become etched in your musical memory

It’s not often I’m persuaded to write a review. It’s not often I want to. Hail this album, Ke Sabroso by José León.

You’d probably look for it in the Latin section: sung in Spanish with rhythms and harmonies that are instantly recognisable as Latin, the delight in this is the skill he’s used in bringing in other influences from Flamenco to Jazz to Rock and even beautiful references to Middle Eastern sounds.

…it’s as though a good friend takes you by the hand and leads a tentative you to the carnival. Once in, you’ll want to stay.

Ten tracks launch with the title track, Ke Sabroso. This surely has to be included in any Zumba teacher’s tracks! Light in its feel, joyful and with energy that feels limitless. Vibrating with sounds that lure you into a colourful world of skilled musicianship and authentic sounds, it’s as though a good friend takes you by the hand and leads a tentative you to the carnival. Once in, you’ll want to stay. It leads the album truthfully: what you hear first sets the high standard you can expect throughout the album.

Mueve La Cadera, has an animal quality: the raw expression of a man watching a woman dance. There are grunts and growls and deep and traditionally masculine vocals giving the track a wonderful predatory sense. But nothing in this album is just one thing. This isn’t the creation of a man who only knows how to do one thing.

Take the track Mi Amor. It has the tender and helpless ring of a victim of infatuation. It resonates and listening to it you can’t help but feel involved yet determined to take your fiend aside soon and have a quiet word.

Few will be unmoved: it describes the perfect sound of willing submission by a strong man. The sudden end to the track leaves us with some hope: he might come to his sense. Or not…

It brings to mind the opening scene of a violent, vibrant Cuban film. There’s so much going on behind the simple but universally understood lyrics Quiero entender como puedo ser el único en tu vida (I want to understand how I can be the only one in your life.) – guitar, percussion with that glorious trip in the rhythm – in between the main beat, creating a sense of deeper thought – which so adds to this track.  Few will be unmoved: it describes the perfect sound of willing submission by a strong man. The sudden end to the track leaves us with some hope: he might come to his sense. Or not…

There’s a track on the album which creates so many vivid pictures. Flamenkito conjures the tail end of warm Mediterranean days.; a holiday you won’t forget and know you couldn’t repeat. For me, it’s the beach at sunset, locals just out from work enjoying a slowly emptying beach, football on the sand, bocatas and a bottle of limonada. It’s Spanish to the core yet has a unique sense that you, the visitor, are being invited in. A rare and precious moment. José’s years working as a Flamenco guitarist give him full authority to weave Spanish guitar into the scene: it’s authentic and full of imagery.

The most powerful track in terms of the variety of sounds is Mira Que Bonito. The falsetto vocals at the start deceive the listener. Delicate, slightly fragile but the driving baseline pushes the track along with a potent urgency and gravity. It gives a slightly threatening sound and there’s a sense that it belongs to another track but has fallen into Mira Que Bonito. It hasn’t. The textures José delivers are sure-handed and carried out with the expertise of a pro.

It’s sometimes easy to overlook the glaringly obvious. In this case, vocals. José’ produces emotion of every kind. Tender and without ego (Amor y Candor); predatory and frank (Mira Que Bonito); sensitive and masculine (Quiero Bailar Contigo and Mi Amor). It’s the artistic exploitation of a versatile voice that brings so much to each track.

And then Pasión Flamenca which might be the sort of thing the invading Moors and existing inhabitants might have forged together in a moment of lucid artistry.

There are numbers which are almost heartbreakingly melancholy (Amor y Candor) but winningly uplifting; there’s Samba Sentimento, an instrumental which has the feel of an improvisation between a group of like-mined friends. Leisurely and easy, it has the pleasant feel of a Sergio Mendes composition. But this is not a sentimental journey back in time. José pulls it through the decades because of his sheer knowledge and being able to tap resources from RnB to Flamenco to Jazz and traditional Indian flavours.

And then Pasión Flamenca which might be the sort of thing the invading Moors and existing inhabitants might have forged together in a moment of lucid artistry. It plants such colourful imagery – vivid tiles, fountains, cobbles, pale sand, fine horses and the torture of conflict.

To end the journey is the lilting, tender waltz, Te Quiero Divina. With a distinctively retro feel, the track shows love in a rare and unguarded way. It’s sensitive and frank – there’s no shroud, no pretence and no shame in its utter devotion. A fitting finish to this astoundingly memorable album.

Don’t forego this album. It’s enriching, fresh yet with so much the Latin fan will want to hear.

The track whose lyrics stick in my head? Quiero Bailar Contigo. The track that exerts the most power: Mira Que Bonito and the one that makes me want to catch a plane to Andalucía now? Pasión Flamenca.

But save yourself the price of a ticket and get this album instead. It lasts longer, takes you further and the memories will inhabit your skin for much longer.


Without Reason: so big, they’re spilling out of the venue

A lead singer can make or break a rock band. They can look like they’re a solo act or be too weak to stand up to the other musicians. Without Reason fits together like a completed Rubik’s Cube.

This is a rock band for listeners who maybe don’t fit straight into the Rock fan mould. You can detect stylish funk and innovative rap inside their phenomenal sound.

For most the gig James on guitar is a steady element: there, guiding the sound, essential to the band’s feel but not making any big gestures musically. Wait til he takes the lead. Your head suddenly swivels round to focus on him and you’re swamped by his modestly executed, ringing, singing solo. All the skill of someone who’s learned his craft and wants to use it at well-chosen moments. Beautiful tones taking centre stage and you lose sight of the other three members who momentarily just support him steadily while he shines.

The rhythm section underpins the act with sure-footed power and force. Hear Ashley on bass, a chunky, generous feel to his style. Sometimes like an interesting conversation going on in the background which you want to listen to, other times like impatient fingers drumming as in their single (released early 2014) Weakest Defence driving the track on. His playing along with Luke on drums sticks the whole sound together with that rare skill of knowing when to stand back and when to step up and take the spotlight.

When Luke on drums takes the spotlight at the start of One Size you’re hit by a raw, primitive energy. Nothing else to focus on, just a drilling, penetrating rhythm like an awakening that hits you right under your ribcage.

His performance was steady and unwavering through the whole evening and in some tracks when he suddenly comes to the fore, you’re blinded by a giant talent.

You want to know how Louise the vocalist sizes up.

You can’t fail to be awed by her entirely fitting, wholly feminine influence. By feminine I mean assured, vulnerable, resilient, knowing and experienced. Her huge stage presence shows a unique way of communicating with the audience, almost one-to-one. Each and every one of us – men and women alike – was seduced by her power and masterful use of the stage.

Her voice has that husky, tempered tone and the occasional note held vibrato is worth waiting for: sensitive, alluring and tantalizingly short-lived. But she knows what she’s doing.

Shoot Pool where I saw them is one of the most basic, un-prettied up venues I’ve ever been to. Without Reason – with their grounded identity, their self-possessed aura and awareness of their ability – filled the room, wired themselves into the hard drive of the very mixed audience and I for one, expect them to be seen at ever bigger, more packed places.