Arthur Hanlon

Irish American pianist Arthur Hanlon said he began playing Latin music because it “has the same passion I have.”

Pianist Arthur Hanlon’s new CD is ‘La Gorda Linda,’ with an all-star cast of guest artists.

“I think Irish music has it too, but a lot of American music to me just doesn’t have it,” Hanlon said in a recent interview. “A lot of American music is standoffish emotionally. It’s cool, don’t get me wrong. But Irish music and Latin music, it gets you kind of viscerally.”

Raised in Detroit, Hanlon grew up listening to the Motown sound, but he absorbed a lot of influences, from Elton John and Chick Corea to Billy Joel and even classical. But things changed when he moved to New York City at 19 to study at the Manhattan School of Music.

“In New York, I ended up playing a lot of gigs at night, mostly Latin jazz and Latin salsa,” he said. “I was living uptown in a very Latin area, and I found myself surrounded by Latins. A lot of Mexicans, a lot of Puerto Ricans, I was hanging out, going to a lot of clubs and I checked out Paquito de Rivera and Michel Camilo, and a lot of great music, which in Detroit, was just not happening.

“So I ended up doing classical music by day, and at night hanging out and little by little, I really got into Latin music, heavily.”

Hanlon’s fourth album, “La Gorda Linda,” features all these disparate influences. The CD is fueled by the popular hit single and title track, which features guest artist Tito Nieves. The raucous tune opens with a heavy bass/piano riff that sounds like a cross between “Pretty Woman” and the theme from the “Peter Gunn” TV series.

The party tune builds on heavy percussion and bright horns for a catchy dance rhythm. The chorus celebrates the singer’s love of his “gordita linda” (my little fat one).

Hanlon said that in age of CortiSlim and Botox, and the societal pressures to look thin, the song struck the right note.

“For years I’ve had this in mind. It’s the kind of topic of conversation for years that talk about women having to be so thin,” he said. “Everyone’s doing plastic surgery. For me, it’s about going to great restaurants for example, going out and dating, and you go to a great place and the food’s great and she says, ‘Just a salad please.’

“I would always hate that. That’s really what started it. Thinking about that got me writing this like a year ago. I think it’s a fun thing for people to enjoy themselves, whoever they are.”

The rest of the 13-track CD includes inspired covers of Agustin Lara’s “Granada,” Armando’s Manzanero’s “Pero te Extraño” and Juan Luis Guerra’s “Burbujas de Amor.”

Adding Spanish guitar, soulful horns and his own brawny piano playing, Hanlon injects sadness and longing into Lara’s classic. He adds a cool yet distant elegance to “Pero te Extraño.” Like pianists Raul Di Blasio and Elton John, Hanlon has a knack for focusing with laser-like intensity on a song’s melodic essence and reworking it to find new dramatic juice.

Hanlon doesn’t sing, and playing piano would seem to limit him to instrumental albums, but not so.

Like former Sting trumpeter Chris Botti or flamenco rock guitarist Ottmar Liebert, Hanlon adds an array of guest artists to create interesting albums of new and familiar songs.

“It’s definitely a disadvantage at first,” he said. “When I started out, they said, ‘You’re boring, no one wants to hear piano.’ Afterward, it opens a lot of other doors that a regular singer doesn’t have.

“I write a lot, and I like having different guest stars on the record. One of my other influences is Santana. Even though he’s a guitarist, he’s an instrumentalist and doesn’t sing at all, look what he’s done. Look at the scope of all his music, and it’s so cool, it’s different. He explores it all as an instrumentalist. That’s a big inspiration.”

“La Gorda Linda” features an all-star cast of producers and songwriters, including Kike Santander (Gloria Estefan, Alejandro Fernández), Sergio George (Celia Cruz, Marc Anthony) and Manny López.

Additional guests include Mexican singer Ana Barbara and Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval.

“Morena” is another full-blown party tune that careers from pop piano melodies to Caribbean percussion grooves.

“That’s a Kike Santander song,” Hanlon said. “He played me like 100 songs at his house on his computer. And that one struck me. I heard it and I just knew. In ‘Morena.’ I pictured myself playing to flamenco piano and just hanging out. I’ve done lots and lots of gigs doing that. That’s what I was trying to re-create with the whole record.”

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