Los Angeles Wave Newspaper
West Edition, No. 40
Thursday, October 2, 2003
La Palabra Orquesta
4 Stars (out of 5)
A native Cuban who moved to New York and then Detroit as a teen, composer/musician
La Palabra takes the premier sounds from each locale and blends them together
on Breakthrough , creating a flowing musical masterpiece with something for lovers of every
groove from traditional salsa and cha cha, to hip-hop, Motown and pop.
A listening experience that offers pieces of different genres while remaining true to its Latin
roots, this second album by La Palabra’s band pulsates powerfully with Afro-Cuban rhythms,
meringue, classic jazz and soul. In the process, it breaks down musical boundaries with its
energetic and eclectic spirit.
La Palabra accomplishes all this with traditional instruments like the timbales
(turntable drums), the clave (wooden sticks with ridges rubbed together), and the cencerro
(a large cowbell). One cannot exclude the trumpets, trombones and piano, all crucial salsa
ingredients. Each instrument plays it traditional role, but La Palabra successfully adds new
spices to his recipe with rhymes from emcee Remy Martin on the English version
of “Y Yo Va Pa’ Shenzhen” (I’m Going to Shenzhen”) or the deep and sexy vocals
of Morris Albert on the slow, jazzy “Feelings.” On the latter, however, La Palabra adds
a clave and some percussion, transforming the once-sullen track into a dancefloor-crowder.
One of the more personal moments is “Mi Nueva York,” a tribute to the city where
the composer spent his first few years in America . After the events of 9/11, La Palabra
saw one of his favorite cities transformed, leading him to write the song in tribute. It begins
like a somber ballad but quickly transforms into an upbeat and inspirational jam punctuated
by his vocals.
This willingness to include hip-hop, ‘80s-style pop and R&B makes Breakthrough a worthy
addition to any record collection. But it wouldn’t be the complete album it is without
La Palabra’s smooth, piercing vocals. The leader of Stevie Wonder’s Phoenix Rising project,
his delivery and vocal range rivals that of the Latin world’s best crooners.