Iowa Alumni Magazine | April 2006 | Reviews

Sound Effects: Ritmo en Azul by Orquesta Alto Maiz

By Shelbi Thomas

Featuring Bob Washut; Ed East; Jim Dreier, 00MA; Paul Cunliffe; Dan Hummel; Steve Grismore, 85BM, 90MA; Bob Thompson; Mark Urness; Rich Medd, 87BM; Al Naylor; Bill Bergren; and Tom Barry

Orquesta Alto Maiz deserves its fans' true devotion. The established salsa and Latin jazz group is a national and international success, with admirers willing to travel 150 miles or more just to see the band in concert. Fans leave messages on the group's website in both English and Spanish, hoping to lure Orquesta Alto Maiz to Portland, Atlanta, Kansas City, New York City, and everywhere in-between.

Many of those fans may be surprised to learn that the ensemble so flawlessly capable of capturing the sultry stylings of Cuba's clubs and cafés hails from eastern Iowa. The pulsating beats and rhythms from this team of University of Northern Iowa and University of Iowa faculty and alumni easily whisk listeners away to Latin America. Only the band's name (which translates to "Tall Corn Orchestra") serves as a reminder of its Midwestern roots.

In preparation for Ritmo en Azul, the 12-member Orquesta studied with Cuba's finest musicians in the Matanzas province, known for its African folkloric tradition. The group's mastery of salsa, Rumba, and Bembé shines through, from adaptations of beloved classics like Eddie Palmieri's "Vamanos pa'l Monte" to new songs by the band's own Bob Washut. "Todos Vuelven"—packed with percussion reminiscent of African tribal music—illustrates the group's contagious passion for the material, while Panama native Ed East's smooth call and response vocals are an irresistible invitation to the dance floor.

Bursting with energy, Orquesta Alto Maiz clearly had as much fun recording this Afro-Cuban music as you will listening to it.