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The best kept secret in music


"Best of the Fest - Hot Picks at the Fairgrounds this Weekend"

Sun., 1:35-2:25
Louisiana Live Lagniappe Stage

On the excellent 2004 CD "Todo Pa'La Gente," Otra orchestrates Afro-Cuban jazz grooves that seem timeless, but are of recent vintage. A mutually beneficial alliance of modern jazz musicians and veteran Cuban percussionists, Otra jumps off from the usual cha-cha-cha, mambo, rumba and boogaloo rhythms for melodic, horn-heavy excursions.

- Keith Spera, Music writer - New Orleans Times-Picayune

"OTRA - The Best Sounds Around - Top 15 Louisiana Albums of 2004"

On “Todo Pa’La Gente," Otra orchestrates Afro-Cuban jazz and grooves that seem timeless, but are of recent vintage. A mutually beneficial alliance of modern jazz musicians and veteran Cuban percussionists Humberto “Pupi” Menes on congas and Cristobal “El Canyon” Cruzado on timbales, Otra is not content to recycle standards and the usual cha cha cha, mambo, rumba, and boogaloo rhythms. Instead, those rhythms are jumping off points for jazzier excursions written and/or arranged by pianist Rob Block and bassist Sam Price, brought to melodic and harmonic fruition by trumpeter Eric Lucero and saxophonist Brent Rose. In their capable hands, the jazz standard “Nature Boy” is reimagined south of the border, and the harmonies and hand-claps of the traditional “Ebioso” clear the way for the horns and percussion to bore deeper. Even in such refined contexts, the traditional rhythms are very much intact and very conductive to dancing. Bravo.

-Keith Spera - New Orleans Times-Picayune

"OTRA - The Other Latin Band"

The night grows deep as the band Otra hits the stage. The drummers lock into a brisk percolating rhythm oozing with the essence of Afro-Cuban music. Amplified tones from an upright bass enrich the sound, and electric piano begins to plink with rolling precision. Conversations slowly die down as people are drawn to the warm energy coming from the stage. The trumpet and saxophone are being played rapidly, arching lines that weave in and out of each other. Otra is officially operating at full power, and as the sound washes over the crowd, a gaggle of frantic dancers struggle to keep the pace with the music.

Otra is the brainchild of bassist Sam Price, who developed the concept in the summer of 2002. “Otra, of course, means ‘other,’ and I wanted this band to be filled with fresh, great players out of nowhere, outside of the usual Latin scene. I also wanted to merge jazz concepts with the Latin beat and dig deeper into the African roots of Afro-Cuban music,” says Price. Price couldn’t have had better timing from this project because a “great player out of nowhere” showed up in New Orleans in the spring of 2002. Keyboardist Rob Block moved to town from St. Louis with a pedigree as thick as his original songbook. Block, a guitarist, had been teaching in the music department at Webster University in St. Louis and playing gigs with organ master Charles Earland. Soon after arriving in New Orleans, Block discovered he shared a musical kinship with Price and was sold on the Otra idea. “With Otra, I like to combine the roots of Cuban music with the improv style of modern jazz. The rhythmic style I play in this band is known as the ‘montuno.’ It is a way to play repetitive yet intriguing patterns.”

Otra’s percussive backbone is formed by Humberto “Pupi” Menes and Cristobal “El Cañon” Cruzado. As Price likes to say, Menes and Cruzado are “the real deal.” Between them they share more than 60 years of musical experience. Menes adds to Otra’s sound, playing bongos, tumbadoras and the chekere. Cruzado plays the timbales in a manner that leaves no doubt as to why he is nicknamed “the cannon.” He is consistently and powerfully on the beat, because as he says, “If I slip, everybody else will.”
There is certainly some mystical quality about the two. It is almost as if they are of the music; the Afro-Cuban sound circulates and courses through their veins. Menes, in particular, is a marvel to watch on stage – a cool, Havana Shiva in a newsboy hat, arms flying akimbo but under control, forcefully manipulating the skins of his drums and controlling the hip-shaking antics of the dancing audience, much like a puppeteer pulls the strings on his beloved puppets.

This elusive mystical quality identified in the percussionists is in line with Price’s desire to explore the deeper aspects of the African side of the music. One style Otra plays is the rumba, which Price explains is from the “sacred ceremonies of Africans living in Cuba and maintaining their religious traditions while pretending to pay homage to Catholic saints.” Other less supernatural styles include the cha-cha-cha, mambo and guajira. Thus, Otra can best be described as dance music that is a collision of salsa with Afro-Cuban.

The brassy front line of Otra is provided by saxophonist Brent Rose and trumpeter Eric Lucero. Both players are well respected within the New Orleans music community and bring a high level of tasteful skill and energy to the band.

Rose performs with a fiery soulful and bluesy resonance and his playing is a nice contrast when paired with Lucero’s high-range explorations of the Latin music dialect on the trumpet.

“To me, this band is the perfect mix of improvisation and dancing.” Rose says, “We present a party atmosphere at our shows that is appealing to the masses. With Otra, I feel the balance of what I want to be as a musician and an overall sound that I want people to experience.” Within the last year, Otra has established itself as a steady draw on the late-night dance and party scene. They aren’t afraid to bring their soulful organic groove to Frenchman Street haunts such as Café Brazil, Spotted Cat and dba or to The Maple Leaf and Twi-Ro-Pa Mills. Their first album, entitled “Todo Pa’la Gente (Everything for the People),” was released in June.

It is obvious members of Otra have a deep respect for each other as well as for the music they perform. Brent Rose sums up Otra when he says, “This band has a voice. It is six people not conforming and being themselves completely while staying within the context of a certain sound.”

- Billy Thinnes - New Orleans City Life

"Todo Pa'la Gente"

4 PEPPERS!!!! A Review By Paule Pachter

The New Orleans based latin, jazz, dance band OTRA hasn’t been on the local music scene for long, but they are kicking up a storm in terms of their unique, driving rhythms. One doesn’t usually equate New Orleans or Louisiana as a prime breeding ground for great latin music. We often look toward Miami or New York for great latin salsa, jazz or cubano sounds. Well, look no more because the Crescent City tienes una gema toda la sus el propios con Otra.

“Todo Pa’La Gente (loosely translated ‘all people’) is todo exciting. The CD is rich in its latin rhythms complete with pounding congas, crisp horns, and authoritative timbales. With only nine tracks featured and an average running time of seven minutes per track the CD delivers in terms of making you feel good. Sitting down the music makes you tap your feet and pump your shoulders. Standing up it makes you want to cha cha. Among the tracks that impressed me the most were: “Con Otra New Orleans;” “Candela;” “Mid-City Mambo;” and “Nature Boy.”

Los músicos extremadamente talentosos en Otra incluyen Eric Lucero (trumpet); Brent rose (saxophone); Rob Block (piano), guitar, organ); Sam Price (baby bass); Humberto ‘Pupi’ Menes (congas, chekere) and Cristobal Cruzado (timbales).

“Todo Pa’La Gente is a great piece of work from a great New Orleans band, which earns a four-pepper rating from us. Put this one in the boom box and mambo down Canal Street. Usted puede comprar este CD directamente en línea from Otra’s official website at: www.otramusic.com. - Zydeco Road

"OTRA - Todo Pa'la Gente (Independent)"

Afro-Cuban bands are multiplying exponentially of late. That doesn’t mean any of them are any good. Throwing a conga player in the mix and faking one’s way through a cha cha cha does not quite fit the bill. Amidst this sea of half-assed fumbling imitators comes the refreshingly ambitious sextet Otra.

Their debut release Todo Pa’la Gente is brimming with not only the essential boogaloo rythms, but with impressively complex melodies. It’s the compositional and melodic element that is what is lacking in most neo-Latin jazz ensembles, and it is where Otra separates itself from the pack. Not content to take the easy way out with Tito Puente and Buena Vista Social Club covers, Otra finds inspiration in their own creations. The album’s opener “Con Otra In New Orleans” exemplifies the band’s compositional fortitude. Beginning with a percussion/chant intro, the band slowly folds in Rob Block’s piano until finally exploding into a soaring horn-blasting chorus. Block is actually responsible for four of the record’s nine tracks, and each one delivers in spades. “Candela” (not to be confused with the Buena Vista Social Club tune of the same name) is an album highlight with its lyrical, weaving melody, as is the dance floor beckoning sway of “Baila Mi Son”. The playing throughout is first-rate, starting with the relentless rhythmic attack of conga player Pupi Menes and Cristobal Cruzado’s timbales. The mingling of Eric Lucero’s trumpet and Brent Rose’s saxophone is seamless while bassist and leader Sam Price holds down a steady but intriguing bottom. Other album highlights include the Latin jazz makeover of the jazz standard “Nature Boy” and the hand-clap breaks and snaky horn solos of the orisha-inspires “Ebioso”. Unlike many other “Latin” jazz dance bands, Otra brings a passion and dedication to the ever-expanding genre. Simply put, they just get it.- Christopher Blagg - Offbeat Magazine

"OTRA - Todo Pa'la Gente"

This band is all about high-octane, full-throttle, positive energy musical explorations. The Afro-Cuban/Latin jazz hybrid created by Otra has made them a favorite on the Frenchmen Street club scene, and Todo Pa’la Gente does a remarkable job of harnessing the band’s live energy into a recording that can be enjoyed in one’s living room. In fact, this reviewer would even be so bold as to declare this album as an essential inclusion in any and all future house parties. What makes Otra special is their ability to play as one and subvert all ego – Otra music is a finely concocted blend of timbales, congas, bass, percussive piano lines and trumpet and sax leads that weave in and out of each other like the fabric of a finely stitched Oaxacan shirt. Tunes like “Mid-City” and “Loisaida” are utterly infectious and original while they pay homage to influences like Eddie Palmieri and Jerry Gonzales and the Ft. Apache Band. Even if you don’t know a damn thing about this genre of music, this album is worth checking out and should make an otherworldly improvement to your music collection.

- Billy Thinnes - Whre Y'At Magazine

"OTRA - Todo Pa'la Gente (Independent)"

One of the nicest surprises on the New Orleans music scene the last two years has been the emergence of the Afro-Cuban jazz band OTRA. Founded by the eclectic bassist Sam Price (a force behind the bluegrass band Uptown Okra as well), OTRA serves the primal function of a Latin band: playing music for dancing your butt off. Two rhythm section veterans, the Cuban conguero Pupi Menes and the Columbian timbalero Cristobal Cruzado, guarantee that.

Unlike many bands that might be lumped together in the "salsa" category, however, OTRA's appeal extends beyond its rhythmic allure. A good deal of credit for this must go to the band's keyboard player, Rob Block. An East Coast native who lived in St. Louis for 10 years before moving to New Orleans two years ago, he is a modern jazz wizard as well as master of Afro-Cuban styles (and if that isn't enough he's a killer guitarist, too). Block composed five of the CD's nine tracks, and in addition to his wonderful playing and writing, he has a knack for keeping the horn charts interesting and for providing fine backing for hornmen Eric Lucero and Brent Rose. Much of this has to do with avoiding that most dreaded of latin music devices (for the non-dancing listener anyway), the endless one-or two chord montunio.

In addition to the Block originals, Todo Pa'La Gente contains two traditional melodies, paeans to the Cuban "orishas" or spirits arranged by Price, and a jazz standard, "Nature Boy." It's a well-rounded program fit for musicologists and booty-shakers alike.

-Tom McDermott - Gambit Weekly

"Latin Music"

Bassists Andrew Wolf, left, and Sam Price lead Los Vecinos and Otra, respectively, two local ensembles at the vanguard of a revitalized Latin music scene. Within the progressive-minded Otra, Price and a band that features saxophone, trumpet, piano, bass and percussion use traditional Cuban rhythms – cha cha cha, mambo, rumba, boogaloo – as a jumping-off point for jazzier explorations, as evidenced on Otra’s new debut CD, “Todo Pa’la Gente.” “We’re not reinventing the wheel – Latin jazz has been around since the 1940s,” Price says. “But we like to think that we put our own spin on it.” “But we like to think that we put our own spin on it.” Wolf’s Los Vecinos adheres more closely to the tenets of traditional folkloric Cuban music on a program of standards and some originals. Melodic and rhythmic instruments – acoustic bass, two acoustic guitars, a flute, two saxophones and percussion – interlock in tight arrangements overlaid with Spanish vocals on Los Vecinos’ 2002 release “P’aqui, P’alla.” The music of both Otra and Los Vecinos is highly conducive to dancing.

- Sound Advice - New Orleans Times-Picayune Lagniappe

"Otra - d.b.a"

D.b.a. was packed on Thursday night as revelers shouted and danced in appreciation of local spacey Afro-Cuban jazz band Otra. Otra translates to "other" in Spanish.

With delicious rhythms and percussive hooks, Latin music made a concert feel like a street party. The local sextet gave the people what they wanted, but they also experimented often and pushed the boundaries of what jazz music should be, a la Miles Davis and Bitches Brew. The band was inventive with tempo changes, and they were able to stuff numerous melodies into one song. The band was saxophonist Brent Rose, bassist Sam Price, pianist Rob Block, trumpeter Eric Lucero, Cristobal Cruzado on timbales and Humberto Menes on tumbadora, bongo, and chekere.

The band was not afraid to get weird: the saxophone dreamily floated in and out of a song and the synthesizer spouted feedback fuzz. A light Caribbean tone is much more common from the piano. The group stuck to original sexy mid-tempo numbers that sweated soul. The band, which was well-rehearsed, was mainly instrumental, but their thematic chants added to the party atmosphere. Song after song, Rose wailed away as the band got louder, while trumpeter Eric Lucero kept the base melody.
The backbone of the band was Cruzado. He was an unassuming man offstage, but he was a polyrhythmic Tasmanian devil during his extended percussive solo. His fills and style have been stolen by modern day rock drummers. Just as energetic onstage was Rose, who blew so much he became breathless. He was rewarded by a wallop of applause.

The band was very cognizant of their surroundings. When a member was smoking, the band rose up and played better. The audience bolstered them in the same way.

The band tried to bring a New Orleans backyard feel to d.b.a., but the touristy and stuffy New York atmosphere of the place always stifled the attempt. The only other thing that killed the party atmosphere was when the band came around with the tip jar (It almost felt like extortion. I will walk up and drop money if I have enjoyed the music, but don’t try and make me feel bad if you’re not gonna charge a cover).

All in all, it was a very fun night. Lucero and Rose are traveling to Switzerland for a few months, so let’s hope the other members can keep up the spirit of the band until they return. It’s real. - Live New Orleans

"Their Own Spin - Otra's Latin sound aims to be 'a little grittier, earthier and funkier'"

As a student at Slidell High School in the 1980's, bassist Sam Price pledged his allegiance to hard rock. Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Kiss made up the bulk of his musical diet.

Then he and classmate Todd Duke, a guitarist with similar tastes, discovered community jazz and roots-music radio station WWOZ-FM, and everything changed. So enamored were Price and Duke with WWOZ that they embarked on a pilgrimage across Lake Pontchartrain one night to find the station in Armstrong Park.

"Our ears were blown open," Price said recently. "Our whole world expanded just by listening to the great deejays on 'OZ."

His discovery of WWOZ triggered a musical conversion from hard rock to jazz and, eventually, Latin music. The process culminated last year when he founded Otra, an "Afro-Cuban jazz and groove" band staffed with both jazz and Latin musicians. They included veteran percussionists Humberto "Pupi" Memes and Cristobal "El Canyon" Cruzado, plus jazz saxophonist Brent Rose, trumpeter Eric Lucero and keyboardist Rob Block. Otra performs Saturday at Cafe Brasil, makes its Snug Harbor debut on Sunday, then joins Almas Gemelas and Avatar for a Mo' Tunes showcase at the Howlin' Wolf on Wednesday.

The path Price followed to Otra was not a direct one. After graduating from Slidell High in 1987, he served a three-year hitch in the Army. He then moved to New Orleans and enrolled at the University of New Orleans. Juggling classes, a job and nighttime gigs proved too much, so he left UNO to focus on music. He gigged with rock, funk and blues bands, including The Desires, the Marc Stone Band, Irene Sage, Rockin' Jake, the New World Funk Ensemble and Smilin' Myron.

Then he received a call from Ray Moore, the leader of the Brazilian band Brasilliance. Could Price do some gigs? "I'd never played Latin music," Price said. "Ray said, "I don't care. We just need a bass player. SHow up, and we'll teach you how.' So I stumbled into playing Latin music by virtue of being a bass player in a city that, at the time, was low on bass players."

And thus began Price's education. "Initially, the most obvious thing is learning how to feel the syncopation of Latin music," he said. "The bass almost never plays on the one (beat). Typically you're emphasizing the four and the end of two. It just takes a little while to adjust, especially when you grew up a white kid in the suburbs listening to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and banging your head on one and three.

"But right from the beginning, I was intrigued by the feeling of that syncopation. And once I saw it written out on paper, it connected with the feeling, and it clicked. It had me, from that point on."

With Brasilliance, Brazilian music reigned supreme. Eventually, Price also fell under the spell of Cuban music. He became more fluent via gigs with Fuego, Elegant Gypsy, Acoustic Swiftness, percussionist Hector Gallardo's Impulso and vocalist Fredy Omar's band. In the spring of 2002, he assembled his own Latin jazz band and named it Otra, Spanish for "other." It would avoid the overplayed standards of the Latin repertoire in favor of original music approached in a unique way.

"I love jazz and instrumental, improvised music. I wanted to get into that area, where you're able to be in that groove that feels so good and makes people dance, but at the same time, you're able to deal with some interesting, challenging music and improvise. To me, that seemed like the best of both worlds."

To that end, he sough musicians capable of playing both modern jazz and Latin music, not necessarily fixtures on the local Latin scene. Rob Block, who taught jazz at Webster University in St. Louis, had recently arrived in town. He became Otra's pianist, and composes much of its material. Saxophonist Brent Rose and trumpeter Eric Lucero are bandmates in jazz-groove band Have Soul Will Travel and the avant-jazz Naked Orchestra.

Price also recruited two long-tie veterans of the local Latin scene. Cuban-born percussionist "Pupi" Menes launched his career in Miami in the 1960's. Since moving to New Orleans, he's contributed tumbadora, bongo and chekere to many bands, including Fredy Omar's. Born in Columbia, Cristobal Cruzado has spent the last 39 years playing drums and timbales in New Orleans, including 14 years as the drummer in Chris Owens' house band on Bourbon Street. Price coaxed Cruzado out of retirement to play timbales in Otra.

Together, Menes and Cruzado form the percussive backbone of Otra. The group's repertoire favors instrumentals, with the occasional chorus; samples can be hears at www.otramusic.com. Otra is finishing its debut CD, "Todo Pa'La Gente" ("Everything for the People"), for release later this fall.

"We're trying to acknowledge the roots of the music, but (play) a little grittier, earthier and funkier," Price said. "Play with intensity and passion. We want to set us apart from everything else going on in the Latin scene in New Orleans. We're trying to do something different, to approach the music in an original way."

- Keith Spera, Music Writer - New Orleans Times-Picayune Lagniappe


'Todo Pa'la Gente' (Everything for the People) - debut CD

Selected among 'Top Ten' recordings of 2004 by:
- Times-Picayune
- Offbeat Magazine
- Where Y'At Magazine


Feeling a bit camera shy


The band was formed in Feb. 2002 by bassist Sam Price. After performing with other New Orleans-area latin bands that played a standard repertoire of popular latin covers, Price sought to create an original project that would empasize creativity, powerful soloing, and irresistable grooves, while honoring the afro-cuban roots of 'latin' music.

Cuban conguero 'Pupi' Menes and Price had played together in various latin bands. Columbian timbale master Cristobal 'El Canon' Cruzado was coaxed out of retirement from 20 years in a Bourbon St. show band (young Venezualan percussionist Gabriel Vasquez now alternates timbale duties). Saxophonist Brent Rose's incendiary, soulful playing was just the voice the band needed. When original trumpeter Bob Garrett left, Rose recruited Eric Lucero, a close friend and section-mate for many years. The two share great on-stage comradery and rare musical intuition. The final piece fell into place with the arrival of pianist/guitarist Rob Block from St. Louis in May, 2002. Block brought with him a wealth of experience from the St. Louis and New York latin scenes, as well as great writing skills.

Influences that can be heard in OTRA's sound include: The Fort Apache Band, Charlie and Eddie Palmieri, Arsenio Rodriguez, Poncho Sanchez, Mongo Santamaria and Cubanismo.

OTRA attempts to bring a rock n' roll attitude and excitement to its live performances, encouraging audience members to 'do their own thing' on the dance floor in an effort to help listeners relate to the music in a new way. In this way OTRA hopes to introduce many new listeners to afro-cuban jazz...not by watering it down or fusing it with hip-hop cliches, but with honest, passionate performances that intrigue the ear and delight the soul!