BY DANNY GONZALEZ
Three-time Emmy Award winner Emedin Rivera and Tropical Turbulence performed at the Dragonetti Auditorium at County College of Morris Friday, Sept. 20 in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Organized by the CCM cultural and special events department, the concert delivered a mixture of Latin jazz and salsa with professional technique and proficiency.
Colleen McArdle, coordinator of the cultural and special events department, put together the night event in hopes of celebrating the Latino culture. Hours before the show, the band was taking a much needed break after practicing late into the night and rehearsing all morning.
The instruments had been set up already, but the most noticeable on stage was Rivera’s percussion kit, as he calls it, a hodgepodge of percussion instruments. At a quick glance the eyes could catch congas, a kick drum, snare, guiro, clave, cowbell, hi-hat, ride and crash cymbals.
Rivera has the ability to play each one with immediacy and precision, moving each of his limbs as if they had a mind of their own. Rivera attributed his unique style from having to distinguish himself in a sea of percussionists in New York City. Rivera was a native of New York, but was raised in Caguas, Puerto Rico. By the age of 8, he was playing the bongos.
“Growing up I saw shows like ‘El Show de las 12’ and observed the greats,” Rivera said. “My dad and my uncles, they played in trios around PR.”Rivera served in the Air Force as a jet engine mechanic and played for on-base bands. He said once the opportunity was right he moved back to New York City and worked as a freelance musician.
Rivera found success in his percussion work, gaining spots on late night TV shows such as The Late Night Show with David Letterman and National Geographic as well as working with accomplished artists Paquito D’Rivera, Micheal Bolton and Cheo Feliciano. “I was jumping around, playing congas for different bands,” Rivera said. “I would show up with the percussion kit, but they already had a drummer. With Tropical Turbulence, I can play true to my own style.” This was how the storm began to develop in his mind. Rivera gathered a few musical friends and each brought their own respective element to the quartet’s performance. Rivera (www.emedinrivera. com) played the drum kit like a magician, pulling out sticks and instruments seemingly out of thin air. Drawing from his time with National Geographic, he transported the audience to El Yunque, the tropical rain forest of Puerto Rico with his wide array of wind instruments and racks of shakers. Juan Beledo (www.beledo. com) is a guitar legend from his native country Uruguay. He composed several songs for the group and has released several of his own albums. He shredded either an electric or flamenco guitar and played the accordion, piano and an assortment of other instruments. Dorian Morales (www. myspace.com/zzdorianzz) traded solos with Beledo on the keyboard and composed songs imbued with furious Latin influence. Edgar Pagán (www.grupopagan. com) acted as gel to the group and supported Rivera on vocals and rhythm with his 8-string bass guitar. Together with their arrangement of traditional and non-traditional, Rivera and the Tropical Turbulence are a force to reckon withinthe jazz community and hope to release a DVD of their performances soon.