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Cuba based rap duo, Zona Franka, blends traditional rhythms with the grit and swagger of hip-hop and rap vocal phrasings. Their clever shout choruses create instant tropical dance classics using their unique self-titled "changui con flow" style.
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Sin Clave No Hay Na

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domingo, 26 junio 2011, 12:58 pm


Chuchito Sets Fire to Green Mill

No arrests made.......

Yours truly has seen and heard enough that he isn't surprised very often and pleasantly surprised even less so.  Having heard that Chuchito Valdes (who happens to be the son of Chucho Valdes and grandson of Bebo Valdes but plays well enough that he would still be a must-see if he were named Chuchito Jones) was coming up from Cancún for a couple of Chicago dates at the Green Mill, I psyched myself up for something great to share with you -- the start of a new tour with a stellar ensemble maybe? A new CD project about to be unleashed perhaps? --something like that in the news department. 
    No such luck.  No tour, no new CD announcement to share with you.  This was what it was - a 2-night stand at the Green Mill, one of Chicago's best jazz venues with musicians assembled specially for the occasion.    Not only that, but not all of the musicians had even played with each other before (although most of them had).    For better or worse, I was about to check out a couple of true descargas.    When I asked about a set list, a couple of the musicians laughed.  Time to cross the fingers and hope for the best, but considering who this is, maybe we'll get lucky...
     Probably 90+% of the true jam sessions that go down in clubs nowadays aren't really worth writing about even when they are pleasant.    Those of us who are serious listeners persevere in  attending these because the exceptions not only are worth writing about, but the best ones even cook on a level far above anything you'll hear in a studio or a more structured, rehearsed live session.  It all comes down to the musicians,  the material and level of inspiration that descends upon the proceedings. 
     The Friday night set featured Chuchito on piano, Steve Sachse on bass, Frankie Ocasio on congas, Fred Cantu on trumpet and flugelhorn, Jose Diaz on bongo and Rafael Monteagudo on traps.  The second night had Joe Frau on timbales instead of Jose Diaz on bongo and Tim Madden on trombone instead of Fred Cantu on trumpet.  Steve flew in from Washington DC for the occasion; back home he plays with several bands including Sin Miedo, a DC-area based salsa band.  Rafael, originally from Cuba, is now a New Yorker with powerful jazz chops, but he also plays with La Bolá, New York's excellent Timba band.  Frankie is a local who has performed with several groups including Chuchito's earlier group  when the latter haunted Chicago for a time.  Fred Cantu is also a local who plays with several groups including Jose Valdes; Joe Frau is also a local who plays  with other bands including  Orchestra Infraverde, and Jose Diaz is also a local. 
     Although many of the songs had real names, I understood soon enough  while I was listening why a set list wasn't in the picture -- these really were descargas in the grand tradition,  which means that the kitchen sink was frequently quoted in different numbers, with a bit of Almendra here and Satin Doll there popping in for a visit in the middle of a piece.   I also understood why some of them flew in from DC and NY to make this date.  This wasn't just a group of really good musicians backing Chuchito -- these guys were all excellent soloists in their own right and had enough stage sense to turn together on a dime.   The result sounded as tight as any prepared show but with a much higher energy level as the band and the audience all fed off each other.   This was the level of enthusiasm that Panart was trying to capture in the 50s with Cachao, Julio Gutierrez et al in the Cuban Jam Session and Descargas recordings, but Panart didn't have the benefit of a live audience adding to the energy level, and solos were usually much shorter and simpler then than now.

Click this photo for more pictures of the group

     Chuchito himself is a very audiovisual performer; when he is fired up, he makes Jerry Lee Lewis look like a zombie with rigor mortis by comparison, dancing with the piano now, then using it for a percussion instrument, even plucking the innards, the hands a total blur during his faster passages.  If only because he has a larger palette available to paint with than his ancestors had, his technique already stands up well with theirs and will probably clearly surpass it in time barring any misfortunes as he ages.
     But this wasn't all about him.  The rest of the cast turned in great nights as well.  Fred Cantu, Steve Sachse, Tim Madden and Rafael Monteagudo  in particular turned in solo work of a calibre that seldom gets heard live in this genre (which probably explains what motivated Steve and Rafael to make the trip from out East).    Considering that TIm literally passed out his business card to the rest of the musicians when he arrived, that is a particularly noteworthy accomplishment.  We're going to be looking into their other projects in the future to see what's up there.   We suspect that they might not get to stretch out as much in other settings as they did here, but if we're wrong, there are some major finds to be made.   
     Meanwhile, here's the thing.  These were much better nights than we usually get to hear live even when bigger names are involved with rigorous rehearsals beforehand.  So what does that all mean really?  Well, that's why there will be a Part II to this piece eventually.
...To be continued...

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domingo, 19 junio 2011, 08:59 am


     Sierra Maestra has been around almost 35 years (a relatively young band compared to Aragon or Septeto Nacional, but they've been around long enough to know a thing or three) and is one of the keepers of the flame of traditional Son. They will be kicking off their US tour in Chicago on Thursday, July 14th at 6:30pm with an outdoor concert in Millennium Park followed by an indoor set on Friday,  July 15th at 9:00pm  at the Mayne Stage in Chicago. 

They were nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2010, and we'll be doing a review of their 2010 CD, Sonando Ya  in the near future. (Photo by Bart Madjeski supplied by City of Chicago)

          Michelle White has posted their tour schedule in the Giras/Tours   section, and we hope to be able to do a live interview with them once they hit town.

     We are also doing some serious listening to a sneak preview of Maraca's new jazz CD Reencuentros,  recorded recently  by Maraca and his Latin Jazz All Stars (and there really is an interesting collection of heavy hitters in the lineup).    We dig it, and in the near future, we'll be telling you all about why.    Stay tuned.  In fact, you should do that literally - Maraca also has a dance CD in the works, and we have a sneak preview of that as well, Preguntale A Mi Mujer , in's Radio   section. Check it out, and if you can, catch them live on tour.     

          Kevin Moore turned us on to this review of Maraca's show at the Napa Valley Opera House:
Napa Valley Register review of Maraca

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martes, 31 mayo 2011, 04:35 am

(Orlando Valle) Maraca USA Tour 2011 begins June 14

José Miguel Meléndez (ex-Irakere) & Alfred Thompson (ex-Omara & Ibrahim)

13 piece band playing a mix of dance songs and afro-cuban jazz

Maraca 2011 USA Tour(Orando Valle) Maraca's USA Tour officially begins June, 14, 2011 at the Napa Valley Opera House (8pm) in Napa, California.

Click here for his full 2011 USA Tour Schedule courtesy of TIMBA's Michelle White.

Straight from Cuba, Maraca's ensemble has been called “the most influential Afro-Cuban band of the emerging century” (Chicago Tribune) and “one of the hottest names in jazz” (LA Times). Maraca will have the Opera House moving to the authentic rhythms of salsa, mambo and cha cha cha, as well as creative Afro-Cuban jazz.

The band has been extended to 13 musicians, all coming from Cuba, with great addition as Jose-Miguel melendez (ex-Irakere), on vocals and solo percussion, and Alfred Thompson (ex-Irakere, Omara Portuondo and Ibrahim Ferrer) on tenor saxophone. The band will be playing a mix of their afro cuban jazz repertoire, danceable songs from their hits and songs from their new danceable CD which is being recorded in Havana now.

Participating Musicians & Staff:
Orlando “Maraca” Valle bandleader, flute, composer, arranger 
Josiel Pérez  trumpet 
Eduardo Martínez  trumpet 
Ariel Pérez  trombone 
Alfred Thompson  tenor saxophone 
Andrés Pérez  baritone saxophone 
Lester Ciarreta  vocal 
Alexei “El Nene” Sánchez  vocal 
José Miguel Meléndez  vocal, percussion 
Iván Llanes  drums, timbales 
Yosmel Montejo  bass 
Rafael Valiente  congas, background vocals 
Andy Rubal  piano 
Céline Chauveau  manager 

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viernes, 25 marzo 2011, 02:22 am

Documentary Film Tour - La Epoca

La Época is a documentary about the music and dancing from the pre-Salsa period in the U.S. when the mambo, son, guaracha etc. were still distinct in the minds of the dancers as well as the musicians.  Since the Palladium ballroom in New York was an epicenter of the "Mambo Craze", there is a lot of coverage including historical footage of what happened there along with interviews with key musicians and dancers from the period.    This is touring multiple cities and includes a Q and A with the producer, Josué Joseph, some social dancing and some filming of dancers for footage for an upcoming film segment.

This is an opportunity to learn more about how la musica Cubana took parts of the U.S., especially New York, by storm.   We'll review the Chicago showing after it comes here.  Meanwhile, for more information, see the film's website at

In the future, Sin Clave No Hay Na will have interviews, reviews of CD releases, major concert reviews and other items of interest.  Stay tuned.

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