On its debut CD, Sexto Sol defines itself as a rock band that lets its Latin roots show

What caused the big holdup? Well, the band's project benefited from one of the city's finest engineer/producers, Joe Treviño, who took an interest in the group and wanted to record them at Blue Cat Studios. The downside, though, was that they had to work around Treviño's maddeningly busy schedule.

"He was doing our CD as sort of a pet project," Sexto Sol drummer Juan Ramos says. "He does Tejano music, because

Sexto Sol kicks out the jams at Saluté.
that's where the money is in San Antonio. The labels pay him to do those projects, and we can't afford to pay him what the labels pay him. So he said, 'I'll do your CD in my spare time.'

"It just so happened that it dragged out for almost two years. The reason he did it is because he has a background in rock music and likes it."

The fact that Ramos defines Sexto Sol as a rock band might surprise some casual listeners. With its propulsive, barrio-soul rhythms, conga and timbale flourishes, and diminished guitar chords, the band could easily be classified as Afro-Cuban jazz. The blazing fretwork of guitarist Eddie Hernandez on instrumentals like "Hot Pursuit" and "Chicken Foot Boogaloo," and the group's cover of Cannonball Adderley's jazz standard "Mercy Mercy Mercy," only support that notion.

For all of Sexto Sol's obvious virtuosity, however, the band is humble about its prowess. Ramos sees Sexto Sol as a group of perennial jazz wannabes, whose technical reach always exceeds its grasp. "It's like we were rock musicians for some reason trying to be a Latin jazz band, but not quite pulling it off," he says. "And the easiest thing to tell

people was, 'It sounds like Santana.' Although we don't actually do any Santana songs."

At its core, Sexto Sol remains an instrumental band, but it began incorporating vocals three years ago, shortly after former Latin Spice keyboardist-songwriter Sam Villela joined the group. Villela, whose vocal timbre suggests a younger Cesar Rosas, also adds dimension to the South Side flavor of the band's grooves, with lyrics that evoke hot summer days, Chicana muses, and spiritual yearning. The group interacts with an easy grace, intuitively leaving space for each other at the right times. On the new CD, they drop in clever musical quotes - like a snippet of Steely Dan's "Do It Again" in the middle of "Duncan" - and flesh out their sound with elegant cameos from friends like trumpeter Luis Gasca.

Ramos, a talented visual artist (his CD-cover illustration of a girl's billowing cigarette smoke forming into the band's logo is typical of his witty aesthetic), arrived at this form of percussive Latin music after years of playing post-punk, indie rock. His previous band, Glorium, was widely admired on the Austin underground scene, although its self-consciously low profile once inspired the Austin Chronicle to describe it as "a band shrouded in enough mystery to give Raymond Chandler writer's cramp."

Sexto Sol's musical sensibility might seem to share little with the Fugazi-inspired cacophony

5pm, Saturday, April 26
King William Fair
Arsenal Bridge Stage
1032 S. Alamo St., 271-3247
of Glorium, but Ramos says the stylistic gap between the two bands emerged only gradually, with considerable lineup shuffling.

"The very first version of Sexto Sol I started in Austin, and it was still sort of an alternative-rock sounding band, with the personnel I had there," he says. "When I came down to San Antonio to re-start the band, the bass player from Glorium was in it. Eddie `Hernandez` - who I'd played with since I was 13 - was in the band.

"I think we were just trying to do something that we thought sounded like where we were from. That's very much like Fugazi, who are very regional, and Dischord, which only signs bands from D.C. That kind of idea struck home with me. A lot of my art work is about San Antonio, and talking about people from here. So I thought, 'What if the band sounded like we were Mexican-Americans from San Antonio?'" •


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