Personnel: Greg Gonzalez (guitar, keyboards, vibraphone); Gilbert Elorreaga (trumpet); Leo Gauna (trombone, Wurlitzer organ, glockenspiel); Matthew "Sweet Lou" Holmes (congas).
Recording information: Bootleg Studios; Lechehouse; Level One Studios; the Compound; Wire Recording.
Photographer: Todd V. Wolfson.
This predominantly instrumental side project of Austin's Grupo Fantasma ratchets up the funk and adds an occasional cool, dreamy edge to make the tongue-in-cheekily named Latin collective Brownout nearly as irresistible as their more established musical relative. The eight-piece features a three-man horn section that brings jazzy spice to the already sizzling salsa-funk mix. Things start out promisingly with the sensual "Brown Wind and Fire," which sounds like the soundtrack to a love scene of a '70s blaxploitation flick, but lays the foundation of what follows. The filmic quality of this music stays intact as the album progresses yet the intensity increases, peaking with a version of Manu Dibango's "African Battle" that explodes with Afro-Cuban percussion and the horn section tearing into the melody with passion, heat, and -- like the rest of the disc -- sharp arrangements. Santana references are unavoidable, but this is more authentic and less guitar-centric, with greater emphasis on a group dynamic. These guys are obviously having a blast playing music they clearly love and the feeling is contagious, as on the closing "Chafa Khan Artistry," a jam that captures all the excitement and collaborative joy of nailing a groove for the fun of it. All selections but the Dibango track are originals and share the '70s undercurrent, even though there is little self-consciously retro about Brownout's approach. But since the album's title translates to "homage," the group evidently intends to pay tribute to its influences. A few smoky, ominous tunes such as the psychedelic wah-wah guitar-based "They Don't Know," one of the disc's only tracks featuring vocals, and the crawling "You Already Are" alter the vibrant mood, but basically this is an upbeat party that cranks the percussion and horns for a joyous eruption of Latin jazz-funk played with chops and crackling enthusiasm. It's every bit as vital as Grupo Fantasma and one of the few instances where a band's offshoot registers with just as much creativity and invention as the original outfit. ~ Hal Horowitz