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Cozy Club Takes Edge off Hard-Core World Beat

February 18, 1993|ROSE APODACA

Around here, international or world beat music most popularly means Jamaican-born: Red Stripe brews and red, yellow and green anything at reggae-themed nights around the county.

Hard-core world beat fans searching for new sounds can find them hidden in nightclubs in a few predominantly non-whitecommunities. But those newly approaching this area of music might prefer a more accessible venue, where valet parking is available.

For them, bossa nova-infused Brazilian beats can be heard and danced to every Friday and Saturday evening at Carmello's Italian restaurant.

Nestled in tony Corona del Mar, Carmello's predictably attracts the area's affluent denizens and wanna-bes. Surprisingly, though, it's not all canned tans and silicone parts, and the diverse accents occasionally overheard give the place a slightly cosmopolitan feel.

The easy sounds are delivered by a three-piece ensemble that has been playing the bar side of this restaurant for a little more than a month. Besides the sounds orchestrated by the two singer-guitarists, Hugo and JoJo, and a percussionist, Ronnie Gutierrez, who goes through an array of hand-held shakers and beat instruments, the music is enhanced by a pre-programmed synthesized bossa nova backbeat. The very coordinated Hugo also plays a bass box with his feet and uses a kazoo for a horn section.

Hugo and JoJo hail from a Portuguese community in South Africa, where as young teen-agers they began playing the Brazilian sounds they were raised on. The duo joined up a year before immigrating to the United States in 1987 and have since been together, inviting other musicians, such as Gutierrez, to join them on gigs.

On a recent night, the trio did their best when they stuck to Brazilian pieces sung softly in Portuguese. The set was peppered by English-sung covers with a bossa nova beat, the way Miami Sound Machine might do Stevie Wonder's "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and Sade's "Smooth Operator" (the latter tune actually seemed to be a theme song for some of the male folk here).

If you're a fan of live Latin music and the sultry, sweaty dancing that goes with it, don't expect too much from weekend nights at Carmello's.

There's some grinding action, such as the kind provided one recent evening by a party whose members actually knew how to salsa. If these guys are regulars (which seemed the case) watch for the patriarch of the group, who danced with several women throughout the night and became so impassioned with his movements that he forgot the presence of others. (In other words: watch your toes and your drinks. He spun out a woman into the bongos and later dipped her onto a nearby table, much to the surprise of the patrons seated there.)

Most of these yuppie couples, however, keep close and cozy and crowd the floor during the slow cover songs.

The dance floor is oddly shaped in a triangle, and a very small triangle at that. Perhaps the owners did not realize people would actually feel heady enough to get up off their seats.

In any case, four couples and the floor is crowded. (The count neared nine by midnight last Friday--maybe people are more willing to risk an elbow in the back or a spiked heel nailing their foot as the night goes on.)

But the scene is perfect for lovers. The low lighting, small tables and romantic framed black and white images of Dietrich, Gable and Crawford set the right mood.

Besides complete meals, served in the adjoining dining room, the menu offers Italian appetizers and complementary hot focaccia. Bar items range from $4.50 to $5 for well drinks, $3 to $3.50 for domestic and imported beer (including Italian brand Peroni) and $5.50 to $6.50 for a glass of wine. But expect those prices to rise by 50 cents when the music begins; it's Carmello's way of paying the band since they don't charge a cover at the door.

As for the service, it's courteous, but very slow and sometimes quirky.

Rose Apodaca is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.


3520 East Pacific Coast Highway, Corona del Mar.

(714) 675-1922.

Friday and Saturday, Brazilian-influenced music and pop covers performed from 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

No cover.

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