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Live Reviews

Orlando Valle “Maraca”
October 2, 2008

By Ernest Barteldes

S.O.B.'s
New York City

“It has been a long time since we've had musicians directly from Cuba at S.O.B.’s,” said the announcer in Spanish as bandleader and former Irakere member Orlando Valle “Maraca” walked on stage with his ensemble to close his US tour in promotion of his new disc, ...Lo Que Quiero Es Fiesta! (Ahi-Nama).

 

With a guiro in hand, he got things started with uptempo salsa that immediately got everyone on the dance floor despite the fact that the sound system was initially too saturated to clearly make a distinction between the instruments. Fans didn't seem to notice – they were there to whirl around and have a good time on what turned out to be a mild October night. After a brief introduction, he quickly followed with “Mala Suerte,” a good-humored tune about an unlucky character whose amorous adventures always end on a sour note.

 

The singers and brass section left the stage after the third number as the remaining band members performed a jazzy danzón that showcased the bandleader's prowess on the flute, as well as an accomplished solo from Alejandro Falcon, who demonstrated great improvisational skills on the keyboards. The whole band returned shortly after and gave a nod to the Puerto Ricans in attendance by playing a rumba tune with a reggaeton-inflected chorus that had a playful bilingual sing-along bit that inquired as to the whereabouts of a covert after-party.

 

The set's best moment came when the band performed an extended Latin funk tune that allowed all the band members to improvise around the melody (except for bassist Sergio Raviero, who kept a tight rhythm section with drummer Keisel Jimenez as the other musicians exchanged solos). At that point, no one was dancing – instead, they were paying close attention to the musicians. As the tune wound down, the band descended from the stage, leaving conguero Rafael Valente alone for his solo showcase. After a few minutes, the musicians returned for a breathtaking climax that ended the one-hour set.

 

Maraca takes a refreshing approach to salsa. Apparently not concerned about performing the more commercial variety of the genre that populates most Latin clubs Stateside, he takes a lot of liberties, inserting different influences and innovative arrangements, which comes as a relief to those who are there for the music alone.

 

Incidentally, unlike many of his compatriots, Valle did not relocate to Miami after winning acclaim as a bandleader and composer. Instead, he has remained in his native Havana, where he has worked as a music producer since 1996.