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Hot Latin Nights with the NJSO and the Mambo Kings LIVE! at the State Theater

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

As we make our way down George Street in downtown New Brunswick, NJ, it’s unseasonably warm this Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018 — perhaps because the State Theater is presenting a special New Jersey Symphony Orchestra performance today entitled Hot Latin Nights with The Mambo Kings!

The Mambo Kings is a musical quintet which formed in 1995 and established a reputation for an explosive blend of Afro-Cuban rhythms and jazz improvisation. Known for their performances with symphony orchestras around the country, the group has recorded two studio albums, 2002’s Marinera and 2008’s Nostalgia, in addition to a live album, 2005’s Live!

The Mambo Kings is led by musical director and pianist, Richard DeLaney, who hails from Lima, Peru.

Active as a jazz pianist, arranger, and composer, DeLaney has written and performed music for films, television, and the stage.

Saxophonist John Viavattine has toured with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and has also performed with the likes of Ray Charles, The Temptations, Lou Rawls, and Chuck Mangione.

Bassist Hector Diaz has been playing with bands ever since he was thirteen years old. He’s performed with artists including Paquito Acosta and Johnny Rivera and — while serving in the Army — even toured bases in the Far East.

Percussionist Freddy Colón plays drums, timbales, and bongos. He has performed with a variety of well-known artists including Aretha Franklin and Tito Puente.

Lastly, percussionist Tony Padilla plays the congas. A self-taught musician, he has been performing professionally since the age of 14 and has played with such diverse artists as Paquito D’Rivera, Steve Gadd, Peter Erskine, and Arturo Sandoval.

Arriving at the State Theater, we enter the lobby and immediately climb the stairs to the mezzanine level to experience a special pre-show event sponsored by the NJSO in conjunction with the State Theater NJ Latino Outreach Committee.

Here, a large crowd has gathered to see the Victor Quezada Latin Jazz Band — a quartet that’s already filling the upstairs lobby with hot latin rhythms. As Quezada switches off between playing his soprano and alto saxophones, he’s accompanied by a keyboardist, bassist, and percussionist. Toes tap and faces smile as Quezada’s infectious brand of music fills the room with a Latin heartbeat.

After several numbers by the band, dance teacher Carlos Mateu takes over and gives a large group dance lesson where he teaches the crowd of all ages basic steps of the mambo, cha cha, and rumba. Dancers — from first-time to veterans — dance side by side. Feeling the rhythms in their bodies, the large assembly of dancers move with the flavor and feel of the music.

Soon, the Quezeda band returns and couples and entire families dance together under the mezzanine lobby’s elegant chandelier and ornate ceiling. Creating a party-like atmosphere where people from all cultures are gathered together to celebrate this day dedicated to Latin music gets everyone in the mood for today’s concert!

Following avid applause, audience members make their way into the beautiful State Theater auditorium to get ready for tonight’s main course — a concert by the NJSO and The Mambo Kings.

Here, in this historic performance space, they see the stage is already filled with NJSO members who are warming up beneath a magnificent colorful backdrop depicting a swirl of a golden saxophone and a piano keyboard.

The crowd applauds for the NJSO’s concertmaster and first violinist, Eric Wyrick, as he takes his place on the stage to tune up the orchestra.

The lights dim and NJSO guest conductor Thomas Wilkins takes the podium as the backdrop changes to a glowing sunset over an ocean.

Performing Glinka’s “Capriccio brilliante on the Jota Aragonesa,” Wilkins leads the NJSO through this compelling piece, the percussion booming against the lilting runs of the strings.

Following thunderous applause, Wilkins greets the audience and jokes with them about today’s concert of Latin music saying, “If you get the inkling that your hips are moving, please get up in the aisle and finish the job!”

Wilkins introduces The Mambo Kings who take the stage and open their portion of the program with an original tune by keyboardist Richard DeLaney entitled, “Melodia: Son Guarjira.”

DeLaney starts off the piece on the piano accompanied by percussionist Tony Padilla, his rhythm section supported by the strings and horns of the NJSO. John Viavattine takes a fluttering flute solo as colors swirl behind him on the screen. Following a dynamic Freddy Colón bongo solo, The Mambo Kings take the lead on this melodic piece, the orchestra filling in here and there to add to the gorgeous blend of sounds which fill the theater.

The audience spontaneously applauds for the musicians onstage, ending in cheers!

DeLaney warmly welcomes the audience and reveals that the group’s next piece is the title tune from The Mambo King’s recent CD, Nostalgia. Starting with solo piano, the rest of the Kings join DeLaney in playing this tune’s very rhythmic and very lovely melody.

Viavattine sparkles on a soprano saxophone solo, solidly accompanied by DeLaney on piano.

Percussionist Tony Padilla deftly plays his conga drums with his hands, becoming one with his instrument. The easy groove of the piano is paired with Freddy Colón as he plays intricate rhythms with his sticks on the side of his drums on this jazzy Latin gem.

The NJSO is featured on the next number, “Marinera,” a song which DeLaney says, is “based on national styles from Peru,” his homeland. As the background changes to black with red swirls — a dramatic backdrop for a dramatic piece — the audience both hears and feels the rhythm of this composition which features a Viavattine soprano saxophone solo and a DeLaney piano solo.

The interplay between the orchestra members and the Mambo Kings creates a fusion of complex rhythms and harmonies which delights the audience and elicits hearty applause!

Moving on to a Wayne Shorter piece, The Mambo Kings perform “Footprints.” As DeLaney explains to the crowd, “Normally this is a jazz waltz, but this time, we will be doing it in 4/4 in a rumba style in honor of Dave Valentin, a Latin flute player who died last year.”

The Mambo Kings expertly navigate the 4/4 rumba styling of this jazz standard which features Viavattine tonguing his flute creating percussive sounds in addition to a rhythmic Hector Diaz bass solo and exciting percussion playing by Freddy Colón and Tony Padilla.

Before taking a short break, The Mambo Kings and the NJSO perform one of the highlight performances of the program, their rendition of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” which they’ve retitled “Blue Mambo a la Turk.” On this lovely arrangement, the orchestra punctuates the piece with blasts of percussive sound as Viavattine takes a thoughtful soprano sax solo and DeLaney plays a crisp and jazzy piano solo, both supported by Diaz’ accomplished bass playing.

The piece concludes with the orchestra swelling at the finale, evoking great applause from the crowd!

Following intermission, Wilkins and the NJSO return to the stage to perform selections from Bizet’s Carmen. The backdrop changes to a red and black fan adorned with red roses as the orchestra plays the famous strains of Carmen, a piece which features the exciting rhythms of Spain.

Harp and flute play a lovely melody which is then echoed by the strings, the music delicately emanating from the stage before wafting over the crowd with beauty and grace.

The rhythmic plucking of the strings adds to the overall percussiveness of the piece before the entire orchestra builds to a final rush of sound!

As the crowd roars their applause, Wilkins addresses the audience by acknowledging the local players of the NJSO with a flourish, giving the crowd a knowing glance and quipping, “I know, right? And they are all yours!”

Joking, “I don’t see anyone dancing in the aisles yet, but that’s because security is so close by,” Wilkins welcomes The Mambo Kings back to the stage for a snappy rendition of The Beatles’ “Day Tripper.” As the backdrop morphs into the image of a sunset on the water, Viavattine takes an inspired tenor sax solo and trades rhythmic riffs with Freddy Colón on drums.

Viavattine, Colón, and Pedilla all leave the stage for the next number, Piazzolla’s “Milongo Del Angel.” On this piece, the symphony joins the piano and bass in a lilting and moving composition which swells and falls with the lush full sound of the orchestra featuring the sound of solo trumpet. As the backdrop shifts to purple with flowing black lines, the percussive Hector Diaz bass line contrasts with the flowing melody of the strings.

Moving on to “Danzon a la Antigua” — a DeLaney original with a title he says means “an old fashioned dance song” — the NJSO and The Mambo Kings perform a piece which he reveals “is inspired by the Cuban style of piano, for orchestra.” With a backdrop sporting a blur of notes on a page, the rise and fall of quick rhythms from the strings which accompanies the piano, flute, bass, and percussion of the Mambo Kings adds a special flair to this number.

Inviting the audience to dance if they’d like, The Mambo Kings’ instrumentalists are featured on Camilo’s “Caribe,” a piece which highlights the explosive playing of percussionists Freddy Colón and Hector Pedilla on timbales and conga drums. After Viavattine takes a soprano sax solo, the percussionists are featured in a blur of sticks and hands.

Audience members get out of their seats and dance in the aisles!

“Yeah, it’s fun having two drummers!” exclaims DeLaney before the NJSO and Mambo Kings launch into “El Cumbanchero,” a number he describes as “an Afro/Puerto Rican/Cuban classic.”

Featuring a fiery tenor sax solo by Viavattine, the strings flow in contrast to the percussive playing of the rhythm section spotlighting Freddy Colón on drums.

As the backdrop swirls in dark reds and oranges, the NJSO and Mambo Kings create their own sophisticated palette of melody, harmony, and rhythm which the crowd adores.

Standing and applauding, the audience will only retake their seats once they are assured there will be an encore!

Performing another highlight number of the concert, the talented Mambo Kings’ musicians perform Carlos Santana’s version of Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va,” the audience clapping along from the first beat. With a backdrop sporting a sunset with palm trees behind him, Viavattine forcefully plays his tenor sax as audience members sing along and dance by their seats and in the aisles. The NJSO members smile from their position on stage as they watch the audience moving to the infectious rhythms of this classic number and hear the cheers of approval at the conclusion for a job well done!

As the members of the crowd make their way out of the theater, we chat with several music lovers in the audience who provide us with their opinions of today’s special event featuring the NJSO and The Mambo Kings.

Rick from Bordentown comments, “This performance by The Mambo Kings was wonderful — the musicianship was very on point,” before adding, “and I loved the orchestra, too — their musicianship was impeccable!”

Joel from Kendall Park states, “This type of music is very popular and this concert with the NJSO today elevated it to a new level.”

Evelyn from Highland Park remarks, “The diversity of the audience was inspiring. This concert was a great combination of classical music and Latin jazz.”

Maria from New Brunswick — a member of the State Theater NJ Latino Outreach Committee — exclaims, “The NJSO was spectacular! Concerts like this are the future of the orchestra. If we don’t want symphonic music to disappear, we need to explore new ways to bring people to the orchestra — and this concert was one terrific way to do it.”

Carmen from Franklin Park — also with the Committee — agrees, noting, “We want the Latino community to be able to engage with the symphony,” before exclaiming, “and I just loved this concert!”

Lastly, Lillian from Bedminster says, “This was my first time hearing an orchestra and it was amazing. I loved it! All of the musicians were in sync. I wanted to dance, and I had a great time dancing!” before concluding, “And that rhythm? I could feel it in my soul!”

To learn more about The Mambo Kings please go to mambokingdom.com. For more information on the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, please click on njsymphony.org. For upcoming NJSO concerts at New Brunswick’s State Theater — including Zhang Conducts Tchaikovsky on March 11, Jason Alexander: The Broadway Boy with the NJSO on April 15, and E.T. The Extraterrestrial with the NJSO on June 3 — please go to stnj.org.

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