I don’t know when last I was so invigorated by a group of live musicians as I was by the Colombian band Monsieur Periné at the Highline Ballroom on Saturday night. Their sound is as fresh and varied as it gets, with a repertory that blends Latin and tropical, swing, New Orleans, gypsy, Parisian jazz, rock, and zazou. There are percussion and drums, bugle and trombone, sax and clarinet, guitar acoustic and electric, bass, South American instruments to shake and bang on, and more. This is none of it ill-assorted. Their styles and influences are like relatives at a reunion who share memories and look alike for all their differences.
The band at the Highline (assuming no substitutions) were Catalina Garcia, Santiago Prieto, Nicolás Junca, Adinda Meertins, Jairo Alfonso, Abstin Caviedes, Miguel Guerra, Darwin Páez, and more than one guest artist. They are a masterful ensemble, musically and theatrically, dancers of a sort (but for the drummer and percussionist, with their fixed instruments), and colorfully costumed. Their antics are like stops on a parade route. More than once they line up and sway collectively to the side, as if music were the wind and they the reeds, the tips and arms of their instruments pointing this way and that, like accusing fingers.
The vocalist Garcia is their shimmering focus and guiding spirit, iridescent as a peacock’s tail. She is expansive before an audience, giving as a charity, with a voice steeped in gratitude. No one is left out when she sings; she has the gift of singing to all as to each of us, and making each in turn one, in the shared identity of being there. The guitarist Prieto, for whom she gave way for a while, is no slouch as a singer either, and how could he in his yellow frock coat, like a coachman at some tropical Versailles? There is a touch of carnival in Monsieur Periné, a usurpation of the ordinary to which all are invited.
The present tour celebrates Encanto tropical, their latest album. It’s a musical love letter to the tropical longitudes, a whimsical map of the Colombian heart. It is upbeat and diverting, as well as imaginatively packaged. But there’s something of greater consequence about them live. The lyrics seem deeper than on disc. The call to liberty is bolder, the defiance of fear a joy, loss an affirmation of the human. They seem, like all great artists, to know strangers as well as friends and make home of a transient space.