by ELIZABETH STRAUCH & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & ry to single out any one instrument in the midst of a salsa band. The trumpet bursting at the top. The saxophone breaking in for a sultry solo. The trombone responding to the vocals. The bright rhythm of the timbales. The syncopated backbone of the piano. The pounding of the congas. Singularly, each element lives and breathes. Collectively, though, they rattle walls, breathe life into the tired, ragged bodies of audience members, and make any ground a dance floor.
Even those who aren't inclined to dance, or wouldn't know a clave from a cowbell, can feel an underlying current that moves through the body when experiencing the sound of a 10-plus-piece group of passionate musicians playing Afro-Cuban rhythms.
"There's no such thing as sad salsa," says Rick Bryceson, the man behind Spokane's premier salsa band Son Dulce, and the band's timbalero. "I don't care how bad a mood I'm in. When I'm playing, it's gone." Josh Simon, on keys for this group, agrees, saying it only takes about 32 bars for him to lose the blues.
A band like Son Dulce is exactly what Spokane has needed for years: a healthy injection of energy into the veins of our small, dark bars and abandoned dance halls. A loving shove to set us in the midst of a musical frenzy. A big, hearty, "Cheer up, Spokane, you can do it!" (And, it seems, an inspirational source of metaphors for someone desperately trying not to use the hackneyed hot-and-spicy ones in describing salsa.)
Forming a band of this size, of this caliber, in a town like Spokane, is quite a feat. After living in San Francisco and watching some of the top salsa bands in the world perform, Bryceson -- a Spokane native -- knew that if he were ever to live in Spokane again, he would need to form his own band. Soon enough, he found himself back in his hometown, and the salsa dance scene had barely grown since he left it in its blossoming stages.
Bryceson first met up with Martin Alfaro (on congas). "We saw a demand, so we thought we'd bring the supply," says Bryceson. It was the action plan that proved to be a bit muddier. Between the two of them, it was difficult to scrounge up enough musicians who understood the genre. Even for a small salsa band, you need at least eight players. But it just goes to show that if you hang around the scene long enough, someone like keyboardist Josh Simon is bound to show up and bring a crew of former cruise-ship musicians who have spent enough time on the ports of San Juan to know the heart of salsa music and its Antillean origin.
Bryceson is clear on that point -- any salsa music he plays must be authentic. "[Salsa of] the '90s got poppish and romantic. That era is ended now and we're taking it back to its roots," he says. Son Dulce, which means "sweet sound," aims to produce earthy, vintage sounds circa 1965-75, when the genre was relatively new and taking over the New York City music scene. Simon says the group's "home base" is the ensemble Fania All-Stars, whose live recordings of that era are among the most famous in Latin music as they showcase the colorful melting pot of styles that produce the salsa sound.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & fter about 10 months of wood-shedding, the 10 players of Son Dulce had their first couple of gigs at Brooklyn Nights last year. The size of the band meant that the room filled to capacity within a matter of minutes. But those who were able to squeeze in weren't daunted by the fact that they were mere inches away from the slide of the trombone -- they were there to break-step, turn, shimmy and whatever else there was room to do.
"We want people to dance," says Bryceson. "When you're into it, it's kind of like bluegrass in some respects. You just don't sit and listen; you've gotta tap your foot -- and just move."
Carrying the vibrant lead vocals for Son Dulce is Jennifer Vigil. "[Salsa is] a 99 percent male-dominated genre," says Bryceson, but Vigil's skill and timbre work are such that you wouldn't know the band is breaking traditional salsa form by featuring a female vocalist.
Where bands in other genres would try to stay small or downsize in the interest of making money, salsa bands go against that conventional wisdom, because more players mean more layers, which ultimately equates to a room brimming with sound, light, passion and intensity. "There's not a lot of money to be made," admits Bryceson. "We do it because we love it. It's like a drug, and once you have it, you want more."
"When we're playing in the smaller bars, it's bizarre," Simon laughs. "At the end of the night, I feel like we've destroyed the bar, brick by brick. It's kind of like a tornado."
Son Dulce at Raw on Friday, June 20, at 10 pm. Free. Call 747-0556.