When North American audiences were introduced to the music of Cuba through the Buena Vista Social Club, the joy of discovery was tinged with melancholy. Seeing performers such as Ibrahim Ferrer and Compay Segundo slowly cross the stage was like charting the supernova before a star dies out; their shows were a last gasp before the traditions of a golden age fall away. Tuesday at Royce Hall, the Afro-Cuban All-Stars performance joyously exclaimed that the sons, rumbas and danzons of Cuba continue to thrive. Led by Juan De Marcos Gonzalez (who was instrumental in organizing the original Buena Vista sessions), the All-Stars are a younger group of musicians, including the horn section from the acclaimed Tropicana Orchestra, who adhere to tradition while keeping it fresh with astute borrowings.
The most obvious influence is the Afro-Cuban bop of Dizzy Gillespie (Gonzalez, with his beret and sharp suit, nods toward the great trumpeter, while his thick dreadlocks are completely contemporary), while touches of New Orleans and funk also make appearances; pianist David Alfaro Garcia, featured in the early going, has assimilated much from post-war jazz. But the band reaches in some unexpected directions: When was the last time you heard a wah-wah tres solo?
Still, for all the talent on display, the first half of the evening felt subdued. “Canallon” and “Tributo al Nino Rivera” were beautifully and elegantly rendered, with fine solos from trombonist Juan Carlos Marin Eloseguy and Adel Gonzalez Gomez on conga. But it took the oldest man on stage, singer Luis Frank Arias Mosquera to loosen things up. With his ardent high tenor, wolfish grin and impishly sexual moves (he was able to keep up with the young woman brought out from the wings to dance with him), he goosed the band like a man one-third his age.
The energy level remained high even after Mosquera left the stage, and by the evening’s finale, the All-Stars had the crowd dancing in the elegant Royce Hall aisles.