Now that the members of the Buena Vista Social Club have split and are touring individually, the musical message of charm, elegance and propulsive rhythm remains undiminished. At 93, guitarist and singer Compay Segundo is the oldest of the bunch. More than the other Buena Vista alumni, he telegraphs a relaxed feeling in his stage presence, dancing gingerly to his percussionist’s beat. In one love song he openly molested his guitar with his hands and his hips. It’s amazing what you can get away with in your 90s; the audience loved it.
Segundo opened with backing from bass, a second guitarist and percussion, with Hugo Garzon adding maracas and handling most of the singing. The addition of Garzon is a wise and winning choice; his light tenor allows Segundo’s gravelly bass-baritone to play a strong contrast. The interplay between the two voices creates a feeling of drama that brings depth and subtlety to even the simplest songs.
Having Garzon along also allows Segundo to concentrate on his guitar solos, which are little marvels of composition. Using simple scales and patterns, Segundo enchants with his mastery of rhythm, often racing ahead of the beat, then dropping behind it and using syncopation as a rhythmic exclamation mark. His other musicians are masters as well, but Segundo takes all the solo space, like a man who’s certain he has a lot to say.
After five tunes, three clarinetists joined in (matching the instrumentation on Segundo’s most recent Nonesuch album, “Calle Sud”). Since clarinets are so rarely heard in popular music these days, this added even more of an old-world feeling to the evening. It underscored what’s made the Buena Vista Social Club so popular in the first place — the sense the music conjures of a life lived in pursuit of relaxed and shared beauty, come what may.
Segundo played a 1-1/2-hour set, and it looked like he could have easily handled another hour or two. He and his brethren are a continuing master class in how to play decades-old music with fresh joy and life. Segundo performs Friday at New York City’s Town Hall.