Larry Elgart
Latin Obsession






Latin Obsession is a late work of famous Jazz bandleader and alto saxophonist Larry Elgart (born 1922) who, together with his brother Les, experienced lots of success in the 50’s and 60’s. These times are long gone, and no other work shows this as mercilessly as Latin Obsession. Released in 1989 on Sony Music and spanning ten catchy and well-known classics of the Golden Book of Latin Music, Elgart and his saxophone are on board alright, beguiled, guided and helped out by the New Hollywood Band. However, don’t be fooled, these ladies and gentlemen are session musicians, or even worse, no musicians at all! The reason is found in a wonderful adjuvant that made the 80’s as special as every other decade before it: adjust the dose wisely, and you create balanced works; use an ingredient overabundantly, and raised brows or hilarity ensue.


Latin Obsession oscillates toward the latter – I hope – due to its peculiar use of MIDI-based virtual instruments, keyboards, programmed drums and the likes. No beaten conga is for real on this album, even though the guitars and the brass strata sure are. If the year of release and the electronic devices make you shiver, maybe because you are a vintage fan and will thus never ever care the slightest bit for a synthetic chimera that is Latin Obsession, let me assure you that there is not only the occasional flash of genius to be found on this album, but lots of laughters and blazing beams of light. There are a few instances where backing choirs are on board, and let me just stress for the moment how ludicrous their performances are. This work needs a listener who does not shy away from B-movies, counter cultures, virtual worlds et cetera. Only then can a cathartic amusement set in. The virtuality is even pinpointed on the front artwork! The archetypical chessboard pattern, the weirdly twisted movements and abstract anatomy already hint where this work is going to. So, if you so desire, please bear with me for another moment.


No offense intended, but the opener Palo Bonito is the real deal in regard to that certain culmination point of cheap MIDI percussion, electronic hall effects and real-world acoustics. Originally envisioned by Ricardo Rico – albeit in a less peculiar way –, Larry Elgart does not waste any time to spawn sun-soaked tones qua his alto saxophone. The surroundings are artificial yet warmhearted. The drum section is programmed and sternly repetitive, and yet there is a synthetic charm wafting through the sterile air, be it the additional horns, the insouciant Mambo catchiness that reminds more of a video game soundtrack than a Latin artifact, or the chants of the choir.


These things in tandem create saccharine mountains which the listener has to wade through, for this is just the beginning: Pérez Prado’s eternal earwig Patricia suffers from the programmed cowbell-underlined 80’s beats and their argentine decay phase, with the melody surviving the Beverly Hills facelifting due to its euphonious overtones, all the while Moises SimonsPeanut Vendor aka El Manicero erects a paradisiac piece of Tropicana with all hands on deck creating a nice mucoid conga groove complete with turquoise synth kalimbas. Larry Elgart’s saxophone shines in this laid-back, almost Breakbeat-oriented mirage. This is a nightmare, but a deliciously diaphanous one. Whereas José Maria La Calle’s and Albert Gamse’s Amapola is anything but a poor man’s keyboard performance in a third-class restaurant somewhere on the beach of Lanzarote, mercilessly MIDI-fied and abhorrently plastic, Rafael Hernández’s offers a saltatory and fast counterpoint with hi-hats like whiplashes, congas like hollow rain droplets and an overall staccato liveliness whose brass blasts are compatible with a Luau’s polonaise.


It needs guts for Larry Elgart to follow this path for another five songs, but there are quite a few sparklers on board if one is willed – or even delighted – to find the 80’s creeping into the interstices of each tone. The synergy works particularly well in Daniel Carlos Flores’s Tequila. I know what you think, this cannot be a good rendition, but for once, it is! The artificial drums work to the song’s advantage, laying down a reticulation of silvery capsules which augment the energy of the polyphonic cannelure of saxophone origins. The adamantly reverberated “tequila” chants interpolate the chintziness. Can it get worse? Yes, for there is an over-the-top electric guitar placed in the latter third of the sunscape. Sorry, but this is a fantastic take, it’s plastique fantastique, a retro dream seen through a dimensional rift.


Alberto Dominguez’s Perfidia is no less oneiric with its aureoles of real (?) flutes, Elgart’s yearning saxophone and almost clandestinely hushed ba-da-da Space-Age lyrics of a mixed choir. A rhythmic bass guitar adds a bit of Funk, the breaks of the drums take a bow and greet the Breakbeat mania of the late 80’s. A crystalline quandary. José Manzo’s Moliendo Café is the only instance on Latin Obsession to encapsulate a Latin spirit; the tones are more rufescent and serious, the staccato saxes suddenly feel more dolorous, a haze of sadness veneers the good mood, not even the ridiculous Latin piano can put a smile on one’s face. But Bebu Silvetti’s Guantanamera sure can! Acoustic guitar licks, vitreous Calypso synths, rain pads and Larry Elgart’s saxophone provide the stage for an efflorescent female choir singing – you’ve guessed correctly – Guantanamera chants. The keyboard extravaganza is eminently noticeable, and this won’t be the last time, for in the finale they are used in a wild flurry of scythes and prongs. Bebu Silvetti’s La Bamba rounds off the weird trip through alternate states as the well-known lyrics are placed in a rain forest of faux-tropical bongo and conga “drums”, saxophone splinters and a melody to die for… or in this case: to die of.


What an utterly curious album! If one watched the stardom and absorbed the albums of the Elgart Bros. over the years, this insula will be one’s personal destiny. I’m exaggerating. Drama and all that. The selected material is great, well-known, catchy and a formidable base to ameliorate the main melodies and bridges with a few tricks. But no can do, Larry Elgart is in too deep, he is surrounded by the artificial artifacts and cheap gadgets the studio personnel stacked together in order to hastily create this album. Do I pan this album? Is there actually something to like about it? These questions only arise if you have skipped to this paragraph, and I cannot blame anyone who did just that. No paragraph of this review answers the question what to think about this work. Yes, it sounds horribly cheap, the good mood everyone seems to have does not exist, as this is just Larry Elgart in the studio interacting with himself. All the melodies were, I suppose, already recorded heretofore, ready for Elgart to play a few saxophone melodies over the harmonies and backing choirs.


So in the true sense of Exotica, the album utterly shmutterly fails. There is no interaction, no interdependence, no soul. But… is the latter really the case? This hyperpolished gem should not be ruled out in its entirety. Notwithstanding the rubicund take of Moliendo Café, there is sunshine everywhere, turquoise water, pixellated palms, parallax backdrops. It is as I have hinted at previously: this is a kind of Japanese technocracy holiday, a pre-Vaporwave memorandum, and if you don’t know what Vaporwave means, don’t bother searching for it; just know that the saccharine bubblegum flavor of Latin Obsession is one man’s anger, but also another man’s joy. Larry Elgart’s late album is ultimately ridiculous, a quick affair to cash in on some accidental purchases at gas stations, but again, there are things one should not miss, be it the genuinely great take on Tequila or the silicon-driven keyboard charm of Patricia. This album is currently only available on CD. There must be a reason for this.


Exotica Review 336: Larry Elgart – Latin Obsession (1989). Originally published on Apr. 26, 2014 at