Baila mi son (Tumi Cuban) / Buena Vista: Barrio de la Habana (Timba)

Afro-Cuban All Stars Present Félix Baloy / Luis Frank Presents Soneros de Verdad 

Baila mi son (Tumi Cuban) / Buena Vista: Barrio de la Habana (Timba)

Not since the early '50s, when a certain law student's attention turned from pursuing a career as a professional baseball player to thoughts of revolution, has the public been this interested in all things Cuban. (American guitarist Ry Cooder's 1997 Grammy-winning Buena Vista Social Club and the 1999 Oscar-nominated documentary of the same name deserve much of the credit for this revival.) The music industry is meeting the resulting worldwide demand with a number of projects that have been put together in Cuba and carefully packaged for export via whirlwind world tours and new commercial releases.

Baila mi son features the work of arguably the best orquesta cubana today, the Afro-Cuban All Stars, as it pays tribute to a legend among Cuban soneros, 56-year-old vocalist Félix Baloy. Pianist David Alfaro and bassist Ricardo Muñoz, in particular, play vital roles here, lending their energy to the All Stars' combined decades-upon-decades of experience. In this adoring environment of rich tropical textures, Baloy demonstrates that he's a master, from his energetic vocal improvisations on the disc's title track to his delicate rendering of his own original bolero "Después de esta noche."

Though traditional in sound, the band employs some modern tricks, such as the brief use of fuzzbox lead and wah-wah rhythm guitar in the introduction to "Yo Soy el del Sentimiento." The overall effort suffers at times from a lack of warmth and spontaneity, mostly due to some dry post-recording production and mixing, but this serves as only a minor distraction from a number of powerful performances.

Whereas Baloy represents the rich tradition of the style, Luis Frank presents himself as both a student of the history of the son and literally as a voice of its promising future with Buena Vista: Barrio de la Habana. As an alumnus of the Afro-Cuban All Stars, Frank brings together a top-notch ensemble of musicians and soneros young and old in a celebration of the renewed life of Cuban jazz. His smooth style and formidable range power several well-selected standards as well as "A Buena Vista," an original tribute to the city that inspired the project.

Frank graciously steps aside on a number of tracks to showcase his ensemble's talent. "Oguere" features bassist Pedro Pablo Gutáerrez and pianist Guillermo Gonzalez, while Manuel Licea offers Buena Vista's most energetic performance on the sexually charged "Bilonga." Buena Vista pays respect to the history of the music, but this never translates into simple imitation or reconstruction. Instead, Frank celebrates this rich past with a fresh perspective and a vibrant voice.

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