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.
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.