Juan Carlos y su Dan Den
Reviewed on this page:
Siempre Hay Un Ojo Que Te Ve -
Más Rollo Que Pelicula -
Dale Al Que No Te Dio - Mi Cuerpo - Son Cubano A Lo Dan Den -
Salsa En Ataré - Mecánica Guapa -
Dale Campana - Pasión - Fiestas De Cuba
Dan Den is an almost endlessly talented Cuban band, led by Juan
Carlos Alfonso, former arranger for Orquesta Revé. They assimilate US
R&B influences rather like NG La Banda
(though they stop short of jazz), blending them with traditional
elements like the "voz de vieja" vocal style. When Alfonso comes up with catchy melodies too, it's the icing on the cake. Their first and
best records are nearly impossible to find in the U.S. - you should pick
up a copy of the compilation Viejo Lázaro if you see it.
Lineup as of 1996:
Juan Carlos Alfonso, piano, songwriter; Félix Toca, bass; Michel, Puly, Jesusito,
vocals; Rubén Pérez, congas; Augusto Lage, bongos; Yoyi Viñet, timbales; Pedro Guzmán
and Gerardo Barreto, trombones.
Siempre Hay Un Ojo Que Te Ve (1990)
This disc contains the synth-heavy hit "No Me Carezcas" (with hilarious
female backing vocals), the Revé-style raveup "Dime Que Me
Presumes," and two tender ballads: "El Torbellino" and "Esa Cara Yo La
He Visto." The title track combines both ballad and uptempo elements,
making for an amusing nearly seven-minute ride. The record isn't easy
to find, but it's worth the effort. (DBW)
Más Rollo Que Pelicula (1991)
Another fine effort; this time the bass playing comes to the fore, and
tracks like "La Lechada" and "Melon De Agua" are as funky as anything
you'll ever hear. Covering all bases, they also come up with a NY salsa
tune ("Amame Con Tu Experiencia") and the terrific, straightforward
title track. There's not a weak track here, though a few aren't
particularly memorable ("Gavetas") - the best of the group's albums to
start with, if you can find it. (DBW)
Dale Al Que No Te Dio (1993)
They're a bit short of material here, rerecording "Esa Cara Yo La He
Visto" and including two homage medleys ("Temas De Pablo Milanés"
and "Boleros De Beny"). But they've still got lots of good ideas,
including a high-tech electronic number ("Amor Elástico"), a
rumba with an extended Alfonso piano solo ("Piano Con Rumba"), and
several fine dance tunes ("Ritmo Dan Den," "El Electrodo"). (DBW)
Mi Cuerpo (1996)
Another set of Alfonso originals, recorded in Colombia at Grupo Niche's facilities. I don't know if
the higher quality facilities were a factor, but the band's sound is as smooth as Cool Whip, and about as nutritious. The bass is way
in the background, there's no synth or other arranging innovations, the horns and percussion are excessively polite.
And Alfonso seems temporarily out of ideas: there's one remade Revé number, "Más Joven Que Mañana,"
"Exceso De Amor" is the same tune as "Esa Cara Yo La He Visto" with different words, and even the originals sound rote and perfunctory
("Quiero Salvar Lo Que Quedo").
If you didn't know any of the band's other work, you'd say there was nothing differentiating these guys from a thousand other salsa bands.
Son Cubano A Lo Dan Den (1996)
The band interprets a variety of ancient standards: "Guantanamera," "Lágrimas Negras," "Son De La Loma," and so on. NG La Banda had covered many of the same tunes just a few years before, but where NG updated the material, Dan Den keeps everything traditional: no synths, no funk influence, and the "voz de veija" is everywhere ("La Jicotea"). There are a few extras - a bass/piano vamp on "Ay! Mamá Inés"; a syncopated bridge on "Son De La Loma" - but generally it's right down the middle.
Solidly performed and well recorded, but dozens of Cuban bands could've knocked this out in their sleep. Produced and arranged by Alfonso as usual.
Salsa En Ataré (1998)
Suddenly Alfonso abandoned all the elements that had originally
made the band stand out: the "voz de vieja," prominent synth and funky
opening vamps were sent to the scrap heap, in favor of the same
urban, horn-heavy jazz-inflected dance pop everyone in Cuba is recording
these days. They do it well: the "¡Y Lo Tuyo Que?" fuses songo
and ballad elements, and cleverly uses electronic percussion. But
it's disappointing from an originality standpoint. Alfonso
is still firmly in control: besides producing and arranging, he also
wrote every tune except for the salsa romantica "Prisionero De Amor,"
a flawless knockoff of the NY Sound. (DBW)
Mecánica Guapa (1999)
A return from timba to Dan Den's trademark style - a point driven home by the opener, a remake of "Siempre Hay Un Ojo Que Te Ve" from the group's debut,
beginning this time with squiggly synth.
Aside from the salsa ballad "Quisiera Pero No Puedo" by Jorge del Valle, and "Que La Vida Me Tratara Así"
by Jesús Salas, everything's by Alfonso again, and he has some fun mixing influences: a hip hop beat occasionally crops up in the otherwise straightforward romantic salsa "Me Arrebata"; "Te Creo Pero No Te Entiendo" combines warm jazz chords with the sinuous bass synth from "No Me Carezcas."
The compositions themselves are middling; hardly anything stands out as particularly memorable or forgettable.
"Para Seguir Creyendo En Tí" is a centerpiece of sorts - it is longer than any other track here - and it's functional but not truly exciting.
Dale Campana (2002)
Following Los Van Van and NG La Banda, the group added a female vocalist this time out: Barbarita
Fernández sings lead on two tracks ("Parte El Alma") and duets on "Dilema" (other vocal chores are split between Orlando Gutiérrez and Dayron Martín). Otherwise, the sound is the same high-impact, steady-rolling, synth-flavored salsa groove the band has been laying down since the early
90s ("Nadie Te Va A Amar"), and they've rarely sounded better.
The disc gets off to a rousing start with "Volvieron Las Campanitas" - highlighted by a wild synth-imitating-guitar solo - and the energy level stays
high with few exceptions.
Jorge del Valle contributed another NY salsa ballad "Corazón De León"; Alfonso brought the rest.
Three tunes by Cuban VP Juan Almeida are more or less traditional son ("Veracruz"), and Alfonso's "Habanera Con Tumbao" (with a flute solo from Laura Alfonso) is similar.
Otherwise, everything follows the group's usual format, with deceptive opening vamps transitioning to upbeat salsa - just once I'd like to hear a Dan Den album where they actually explore the manifold styles they explore in those opening segments.
So there's nothing really new, but are some excellent tunes (the dynamic "De Tú A Tú"; "Te Pones Como Te Pones") and not many weak ones ("Aprende, Que No Soy Eterno"); they do lose style points for including another hits medley.
Fernández contributes a few leads (title track, which also features a nice piano solo from the leader).
Fiestas De Cuba (2009)
After a few years off, Alfonso came back with a workmanlike but strikingly uninspired collection of minor variations on Dan Den's standard groove (title track; "Chuncha En Escena," con voz de vieja) - the only thing reggaeton about "Campanita Con Reggaeton" is the name.
As a result, there's nothing to dislike, but even less to like. Again, the leads are split, with Fernández promulgating the same sassy persona every time out ("Deja De Destacarte").
The disc closes with four remakes, pushing the inessentiality to new heights ("El Torbellino," etc.)
No me carezcas.