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World Music CD Reviews Greater Latin America

SIERRA MAESTRA

By Eric Seyfarth
Published September 22, 2005

Son: Soul Of A Nation
World Music Network

Back in a Havana studio after recording their previous four sessions of classic son in Europe, Sierra Maestra offers a cultural tribute to the form. Beginning with their well-grounded name, taken from the eastern mountains of Cuba where the old-style dance music of the ’20s and ’30s originated, Sierra Maestra covers songs from pioneer soneros including Nico Saquito, Beny More and Arsenio Rodriguez, as well as unleashing their own compositions. There’s also a range of styles represented here, from the traditional trova three-piece, moving to the nine-member conjunto, and finishing with the horn-driven jazz arrangements typical of the 1950s. The punchy, tightly arranged opening of “El Son No Puede Fallar” (“Son Cannot Fail”) features a roll call of past masters, in contrast to the sugar-cane cutter’s lament “Al Vaiven De Mi Carreta,” written by Nico Saquito and briefly banned from the radio in the ’30s for its social criticism. Another standout is the layered vocals and twined instrumentation of “La Yuca De Casimiro.” From the brassy, full-throttle versions of son montuno to the African transplantation of guaguanco to the lilting tres guitar of classic son, Sierra Maestra offers a fulfilling glimpse into the heart and soul of Cuba’s most essential expression.