With its arty orientation, the Knitting Factory Hollywood is about the last place in town you'd expect to have free salsa dancing lessons. That was the scene Sunday, though, with a handful of couples being taught steps to inaugurate what's planned as a semi-regular residency by Radio Bemba, a young local band offering a pan-Latin array of Colombian cumbias, Afro-Caribbean rumbas and Mexican rancheras with considerable musical chops.
Vivacious singing sisters Juliette and Carla Commagere front the group with obvious feel for the music's roots. But the most promising heritage comes through leader Joachim Cooder. A drummer of great talent, he has for several years been a regular participant in the Buena Vista Social Club sessions of Cuban veterans overseen by his father, guitarist Ry Cooder, who has long taken music from all over the globe and filtered it through a distinctive vision.
That kind of vision is somewhat lacking in Radio Bemba at this early stage, as the set was largely an exercise of styles. But the Cooder heritage did show itself several times Sunday, notably in a Latinized version of Roscoe Gordon's old blues shaker "Just a Little Bit." And there was such playful tinkering as tossing Nigerian high-life rhythms into the opening rumba "Carolina" and grafting funk to the Cuban-originated "Sabor de Pachanga."