Billboard (p.49) - "Tightly weaving Anglo, Afro and Latin musical genres, EL EXISTENTIAL takes on an identity of its own."
Personnel: Rodolfo "Kino" Esparza, Jose Galeano (vocals, percussion); Adrian Quesada, Beto Martinez (guitar); Josh Levy (flute, baritone saxophone); Gilbert Elorreaga (trumpet); Mark "Speedy" Gonzales (trombone); Matthew "Sweet Lou" Holmes (vibraphone, congas); Johnny Lopez (drums).
Audio Mixer: Grupo Fantasma.
Liner Note Author: Pablo E. Yglesias AKA DJ Bongohead.
Recording information: Level One Studios North, Austin, TX; Seaside Lounge, Brooklyn, NY.
Grupo Fantasma's fame for their collaborations, either in full group mode or individually, almost outstrips that of their own work -- a pity, because as their fifth album El Existential readily demonstrates, they deserve plenty of credit for their own work. The rich roil of sounds the band explores throughout is no surprise; exuberant horns, classic funk beats, upbeat rhythms, crackling guitar bursts, and much more besides can be heard in the first song, "Realizando," alone, and the rest of the album lives up to that start. While one could argue that the result is ultimately inspired fusion rather than a new path forged, it's that inspiration that is the key (and why else would one song be titled "Cumbianchera" if it wasn't a combination of exactly what it suggests?). Even the two guest star appearances give a perfect sense of the range at work -- salsa piano legend Larry Harlow, who's previously played with the group, takes a new turn on "Juan Tenorio," while Meat Puppets main man Curt Kirkwood appears on "Telaraña" to add a little guitar twang and kick to an already peppy song. The main focus is of course on the band's work straight-up and the group's perfectly in-the-pocket playing just serves it up one song after another almost without a break; by the time they hit a slower number with "Hijo" it almost feels like the necessary lull for a group of dancers to catch their breath a bit -- only for the big guitar riffs and drums on the break to help fire things up yet again. Similarly, individual moments leap out all over the place -- like the handclaps and brass break on "La Conozco" and the high-speed (and brilliantly played) introduction to "El Consejo" swinging into a thrilling main arrangement. ~ Ned Raggett