Wilson and Alroy's Record Reviews We listen to the lousy records so you won't have to.

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Nora/Orquesta De La Luz


Reviewed on this page:
Orquesta de La Luz - Sin Fronteras - Somos Diferentes - La Aventura - ¡Feliz Christmas! - Sabor de La Luz - Electric Lady - Trátame Como Soy


Not just the best salsa band ever to come out of Japan, Orquesta De La Luz was distinguished by its terrific horn section and its idiosyncratic lead singer Nora. In the mid-90s the band overdosed on ballads and jazzy numbers, and once they broke up Nora went back to uncomplicated full-out salsa. (DBW)

Personnel:
Nora, vocals; Gen Ogimi, percussion (left after Sin Fronteras); Carlos Kanno, percussion; Genichi Egawa, timbales (left after second album); Gen Date, conga (left after Somos Diferentes); Hiroshi Sawada, bass (left after fourth album, replaced by Hiroyasu Ito); Satoru Shoinoya, piano, keyboards; Shiro Sasaki, trumpet; Tatsuya Shimogami, trumpet (first album only, replaced by Shigeru Terauchi); Yoshihito Fukumoto, trumpet; Hideaki Nakaji, trombone; Taisei Aoki, trombone. Co-producer/arranger Sergio George contributed keyboards occasionally. Band broke up, 1995.


Orquesta de La Luz (1990)
From the first track, they've got their precision, high-energy act worked out: "Salsa Caliente Del Japon" is irresistable, band written and arranged (so is the terrific "Salsa Es Mi Energia"), although they do benefit from Sergio George arrangements on tracks like the hit "Tú Eres El Hombre," and several tunes are by Johnny Ortiz and other salsa tunesmiths. They also cover Luther Vandross' "There's Nothing Better Than Love." (DBW)

Sin Fronteras (1991)
Consistently superior salsa; they mix in some hip-hop on "Sin Fronteras," and Japanese pop on "I Am A Piano," without ever losing their salsa groove. Both band compositions ("Amame" by Nora) and covers ("El Me Ama, Yo Le Amo" by Rubén Amado, Johnny Ortiz' "Flores Y Tambores") are tuneful and danceable. The highpoint of the album is "Descarga De La Luz," a rousing band written and arranged number (with a Tito Puente solo, no less) guaranteed to pack the dance floor whenever you play it - and thanks to its horn charts and constant motion, it makes as rewarding listening as dancing. The weakest point is Sergio George's Salsa En English "Make The World Stand Still," but you can keep playing this record over and over again without getting tired of it. (DBW)

Somos Diferentes (1992)
Although Nora spends a lot of time kidding around, she can belt out a ballad when she wants to (the title track, "Soy Esa Mujer," which she co-wrote). There are also a couple of high-powered tracks ("Salsa Con Sabor" slams, while "El Agua De Belen" is contagious fun), but many of the tunes are missing the inspired horn lines and overall fire of the earlier records ("Salsa Y Control," "7 De Septiembre"). (DBW)

La Aventura (1993)
The band takes sole production credits here. A strange experiment, moving towards crossover pop and Latin jazz simultaneously. It's reasonably successful, but don't buy this expecting to play it at your next dance party. They cover "Time After Time" by Cyndi Lauper (!) and "I Can Only Be Me" by Stevie Wonder, and do credibly; the jazz numbers aren't quite as successful ("Pier 72"), although their first-class chops are very much in evidence. The more traditional salsa numbers aren't gripping ("Move It!" and "Arroz Con Salsa"); Nora does do a fine job with her own ballad, "Soy Sincera." (DBW)

¡Feliz Christmas! (1994)
Orquesta De La Luz is at their best when they embrace their cornball side as well as their percussive punch, and there's plenty of both here. On "White Christmas," Nora stretches from crooning to belting, as the band shifts from jazzy piano comping to full-out salsa; José Feliciano's tacky "Feliz Navidad" is rebuilt as classy horn- and cuatro-driven salsa, with a fine extended solo from Shionoya. Though the band didn't write anything new, they include a variety of Spanish-language standards (Leni Prieto's moving bolero "Cuando Llega Navidad"), English-language standards (Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song"), and a couple of songs by hired guns (Benito DeJesus's "Cantares De Navidad"). Sometimes they just fall back on their standard arrangements ("Parranda Del Japon" sounds mighty like "Descarga De La Luz"), but even when they do, you could do a lot worse. Produced by the band, co-produced by Charlie Donato, who adds some guiro; Pedro Guzman (not the TV news guy) plays cuatro (a cross between a guitar and a ukelele) on several tracks. (DBW)

Sabor de La Luz (1995)
The band moves back to its bread and butter here, although there is still some pop balladeering (Bacharach & David's "(They Long To Be) Close To You") and a nod to jazz ("Boogalogy"). Despite the many personnel changes by this point, the band is super-tight and is going to make damn sure you know it, with stop-on-a-dime arrangements ("Quiereme," by Nora and Charlie Donato, is one thrilling example). The songwriting comes from a variety of places, bandmembers and outsiders, but it's all good, from "Sabor" (by Bobby Capo) to the romantic "Se Fue" (originally an Italian song by P. Cremonesi, A. Valsiglio and F. Cavalli). (DBW)

Electric Lady (Nora Nora: 1996)
Nora's gone solo, working with a band picked by producer Sergio George. It's more or less in George's trademark NY salsa-plus-R&B style, with prominent funk bass, catchy choruses, and kinetic keyboard lines. There are a lot of fun uptempo tunes ("Loco Por Mí"), a couple of salsa power ballads ("De Tí Nada Más"), and plenty of Nora's larger-than-life personality ("Nora Sola"). Though there's none of the jazzy sophistication of the De La Luz days, it's still solidly enjoyable. The players are George's usual stable, with no notable guests. (DBW)

Final Concert: ¡Adiós Amigos! (1998)
A double CD; there's also a one-disc version called Gracias. (DBW)

Trátame Como Soy (Nora: 1999)
Produced by Nora, and recorded in Cuba. Guest stars include Chucho Valdes (piano and arranger, "Sabor A Mí"), Isaac Delgado (vocals on Adalberto Alvarez's "Cuestiones Del Amor"), Pancho Amat Rodríguez (tres and quatro guitar), and Orlando "Maracas" Valle (flute, musical director, arranger of most tunes). Nora doesn't embrace either current in recent Cuban dance music - NG-style jazzy sophistication and synths, or Buena Vista Social Club-y nostalgia - and she ends up with a no-frills, no-nonsense set that's perhaps lacking in originality but never in taste. Her vocal approach are also more traditional than on past albums, so maybe she's going back to her roots or something. Nora didn't write any of the tunes except for the closing "Descarga Cubana," but everything's swinging (title track, by Pedro Brunet) and there are no overfamiliar covers. Not a record for the ages, but if the current Latin Explosion (so-called) has got you hankering for the real salsa cubana, Nora's serving it up. (DBW)

¡Banzaaay! (2004)
Did this band reform when I wasn't paying attention?!? (DBW)

Arco Iris (2005)
Includes a cover of "Saving All My Love For You." (DBW)

¡Caliente! (2008)


Soy sincero.

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