By Nicki Escudero
By Amy Silverman
By Brian Palmer
By Chris Parker
By Troy Farah
By Lauren Wise
By Lauren Wise
Among those taking part in the proceedings were a collective of talented percussionists and horn players -- many of them fellow jazzniks in the ASU music department.
From the outset, the parping trumpets of George Yáñez and Peter "Papa Verde" Green and the warm brass of saxophonist Jake Gabow and trombonist Steve McAllister served as the catalyst for the band's rich, sinuous groove.
"The horn section has been there from the beginning," Raul says. "Also, with the horns, the improvisational element is essential. Being skilled jazz guys, not only can they change things up in the middle of a song, but they can switch it up on the fly. They're extremely versatile."
With cascading polyrhythms also at the forefront of the band's sound, CPR is able to captivate listeners with a varied percussive attack that keeps audiences both listening and dancing.
"I really see what we're doing as a tribal thing," Raul says. "Sometimes we'll play the same groove over and over, and it becomes a trance -- similar to electronic music movements like drum 'n' bass or even hip-hop. That goes back to a primal thing, all the way back to the roots in Africa. And we're the same. But we're just using different rhythms."
While there is a progressive, barrier-breaking element to the band, at its foundation CPR is rooted in a bedrock of classics, with songs that reference the work of Latin jazz piano titan Eddie Palmieri, congueros like Ray Barretto and his famed Fania Allstars and the even the frenetic dance vibe of Tito Puente during his great Tico records period.
If there is a single defining element to the band, however, it might well be the grit 'n' gravel quality of lead singer Leon Santiago's voice. Santiago -- a Puerto Rican native -- was performing with local rock combo Blacksheepchoir when Raul Yáñez first approached him about CPR.
For many, Santiago's feral growl and back-of-the-throat singing style will conjure up memories of a young José Feliciano, or perhaps even Joe Cocker. Others will be reminded of a pair of fellow Puerto Ricans, Mon Rivera and Angel Canales. Like Santiago, both were distinctive and irreverent vocalists with a cheeky flair. (Santiago, on occasion, has been moved to sing Bob Marley lyrics over classic Chicano tunes.)
As CPR's weekend jams became more focused, the band decided to move things from the living room to the stage. Rather than chance it on the local Latin circuit -- where the band's eclectic style would likely have had audiences shaking their heads instead of their asses -- the group looked to a more welcoming arena, the East Valley's rock and roots clubs: the Green Room, Lucky Dragon, Nita's Hideaway, Beeloe's.
"For a group like CPR, rock clubs were a natural environment," says longtime Valley promoter and Nita's impresario Charlie Levy. "The expectation in a traditional Latin club or bar is different. They want to hear covers and familiar sounding dance music, so they aren't into the adventurousness of a band like CPR. But with rock audiences who are used to -- and even expecting -- original music, it was much easier for them to get a foothold."
Quickly, the band found favor with younger, ethnically mixed crowds, who weren't afraid to express themselves in their own unique way.
"When you come to our shows, you see Mexicans, Chicanos, the whole Latino gamut is there," Raul says. "But when we play a place like Nita's, for example, there are times when you've got punk guys jumping around or hip-hoppers breakdancing up front. I love that. I love the fact that people feel free to do what they want and dance how they want when we play."
The group's decision not to cower to club owners demanding tired covers of "La Bamba" and "Oy Ye Como Va" had paid off, teaching Raul what he says was a crucial lesson about the fickle nature of popular taste.
"Being in CPR, I've learned something important," he observes. "The bottom line with music is if it's played well and played with conviction, people are going to like it."
Despite the band's early success, Chicano Power Revival hasn't had an entirely easy time of things. Among the problems it has faced has been an all too common misconception regarding the band's name. To some, the moniker is seen as an inflammatory or exclusionary political statement.
"One club called and told us we had to change the name if we wanted to play because, he said, 'How would you feel if I had a band called White Power Revival?'" Raul says. "We've had things like beer company sponsorships fall through, or gigs where people have pulled out because they were scared off by the name. The whole thing is ironic because we're one of the most open-minded and inclusive Latin bands around. We play all kinds of music and all kinds of people come to see us."
Still, CPR's music is suffused with political undertones, like those found in their reading of Little Joe's tejano anthem "Las Nubes" -- a pivotal social song detailing the plight of farm workers -- or in original compositions like "Unidos Mi Raza" (United My People).