Music News

Brothers in Arms

It's a sharp, almost violent drop leading to the back entrance of Beeloe's bar.

Down a steep flight of concrete stairs just off Mill Avenue -- currently teeming with baggy-pantsed high schoolers out for some Friday night cruising -- past a silver-painted door, and you're inside the club.

Inside, the stage is set lower than the entranceway floor. To get close to the music, you have to be willing to descend into it, which makes for an especially apt metaphor.

At the moment, Beeloe's is steeped in a sound many would brand as "ambient jungle music." But the style has a proper name: It's an old Afro-Cuban dance rhythm called a guaguanco, part of the rumba family. Tonight, Beeloe's might as well be a side-door juke joint in the Caribbean; the bubbling, sweat-soaked atmosphere filling the place simmers like tropical heat.

It's just after midnight and the Chicano Power Revival Orchestra has started to hit its stride. For the past two hours, band members have been doing what they're best known for, pinballing back and forth between a bevy of musical styles and generally creating a sense of unhinged euphoria in their audience.

Pressed against the foot of the stage is an unlikely assortment of characters: young, single Latinas in high heels and black dresses; aging bearded hippies in flowery shirts; leather-clad couples out for a night on the town. All of them, of course, dancing furiously.

Later, when the first few notes of a Mexican drinking song called "Por Ellas" ring out, there's a grab for bottles and glasses to hoist in the air. The cantina vocals and call-and-response chorus have made the number a crowd-pleaser, if not something of a signature tune. As the shimmying masses erupt in the song's Spanish refrain -- "For the ladies!" -- there seems little point in resisting, so you join in.

At the center of this boozy mayhem is keyboardist and bandleader Raul Yáñez. Resplendent in a dark, well-tailored suit, he's doing his own little dance steps in place, occasionally looking over his shoulder at the band to signal a cue or change. The rest of the 11-piece outfit is in various states of action: rhythm players keeping the groove, the horn section harmonizing licks, percussionists driving madly at the beat.

Introducing a beautifully stoned jazz-funk excursion, Yáñez raises his fist into the air: "This one is called 'Sigue Tis Sueños, Hermano' -- 'Follow Your Dream, Brother.'"

Since 1999 -- depending on the particular moment -- CPR has been the best Latin band, dance group and jazz combo in the Valley. Unwilling to confine themselves to any one genre -- often convincingly covering a dozen Mexican styles alone in the course of a set -- they've chosen instead to embrace a ferocious brand of alchemy that few would even dare flirt with.

Such willful eclecticism has cost them some small things along the way, but like the dreamer in the song, Raul Yáñez has always had bigger things in mind.

A few days later and a few blocks up Mill Avenue, Raul Yáñez is standing in the dining room of RA sushi restaurant, waving wildly.

It's hard to see or hear anything in the darkened, noisy eatery, as speakers blaring the latest pop hits compete with the rising din of drunken sorority girls at the bar.

With a thin mustache and shock of black hair, Yáñez could easily pass for an old revolutionary soldier in some sepia-tinted photo, if not for the warm, soft features of his face.

Tracking Yáñez down can be quite a chore. With his multiple duties as a teacher and grad student at ASU, a high school band conductor, a church music director and in-demand composer, the endless succession of 16-hour work days leaves little time for anything except the occasional bit of bed rest.

But it's a relaxed Sunday night in Tempe and Yáñez has finally decided to give himself a break, joining his fiancée, Gloria, for a buffet of salmon rolls and Sapporo beer.

Yáñez's courtly manner belies his intense passion for music -- a subject he eats, breathes, sleeps and speaks about with an unshakable conviction.

For Valley musos, Yáñez's name should be a familiar one. The multi-instrumentalist has been a consummate sideman in recent years, playing backup roles with venerable turntablist DJ Radar, the East Valley Big Band, rock experimentalists Yearofthemule and even hitting the road as part of disco divas Sister Sledge's touring combo.

Yáñez is just through recounting some memorable tales of the three years he spent playing the Asian jazz circuit in the mid-'90s, when his two younger brothers and fellow CPR bandmates arrive.

Exchanging handshakes and hugs, Xavier and George Yáñez (one and seven years Raul's junior, respectively) pull up chairs and join in on the conversation.

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J.P. Garty

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