Grupo Fantasma

Comes Alive

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As Austin, TX's Grupo Fantasma is known for their energetic live show -- not only have they received numerous local accolades, they've also served as Prince's backing band during his stints in Vegas and London -- putting out a live album makes a lot of sense. Recorded during a hometown show in March 2006, Comes Alive is a vibrant, impressive, and -- most importantly -- fun set that does a fine job of capturing the group's dynamic on-stage presence. The 11-piece band has had some lineup changes over the years, but the most notable one here is the absence of lead singer Brian Ramos, who had amicably left just a few weeks prior to this recording. This means timbales player and main songwriter José Galeaño stepped up to the mic -- with newbie trumpeter/vocalist Rodolfo "Kino" Rodriguez waiting in the wings, learning -- and he does an excellent job, his voice expressive and passionate, sliding against the bright horns and bass nicely, like in "Bailadores" or "Mentiras." Though he fronts the band and introduces them (which happens not only in the funk-laden, Prince-inspired "Band Introductions," but also throughout the set), Galeaño is not the main focus of the set. Instead, it's the wailing Santana-esque guitar, the thumping congas, the warm yet tight horn section, that really stand out. Solos are taken frequently, but never endlessly, and riffs are always returned to and played off of, so the feel and meaning of the song is never forgotten. For this reason, though many of the tracks on Comes Alive stretch past the four- or five-minute mark, nothing drags on, as live albums often have a tendency to do. Moving from salsa to cumbia to funk to rock with ease, playing tracks from their first two studio albums, new songs, and a cover (Ray Barretto's fantastic "Cocinando," which is done great justice here) Grupo Fantasma cements its status as a fantastic, not-to-miss band, one that deserves all the accolades it's received.

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