When it comes to locking into a drop-dead groove, there isn't a contemporary style of music that couldn't benefit from a few lessons from our Hispanic brethren. Take either of these records. Luis Enrique, a Nicaraguan who now resides in Miami, is one of salsa's brightest young stars. Because the 26-year-old has an unusually sweet voice for the genre, he can start off songs like "Desperado" and "Tu No Le Amas Le Temes" in a lilting, romantic pop mood. But Amor y Alegria (CBS) wouldn't be a Latin hit if he didn't drop a heavy hammer, as he does with the refrain of almost every song here, unleashing a mean trumpet and trombone punch and a percussive mule kick. Enrique fares well with the more balladic numbers, such as "Volverte a Ver" and "Comprendelo," but even here he doesn't spare the congas, bongos and those spiky, aggressive syncopated piano riffs peculiar to Latin music. While non-Spanish speakers will have to infer the specific meaning of the lyrics, nobody needs a translator to know there's some serious passion going on.
Los Nemus del Pacifico, a Colombian band led by singer-songwriter Alexis Murillo, carries a big rhythm stick as well. The title, Son Montuno y Salsa (Sonotone), refers to two song styles primarily employed by Murillo. Salsa, a vague term (it's almost the equivalent of Latin American), grew out of Afro-Cuban rhythms as refined and popularized by the large music community in New York City. Son Montuno is basically a rumba that's ready to rumble. The band really cooks in the latter style with songs like "Por Que Disimulamos" and "Si Tu No, La Otra," which feature zesty percussion and the inventive piano of Nicolas Cristancho. The best part of these two albums is that wherever a song begins, it always ends up in a deep groove.