Orlando Valle “Maraca” & Orquesta Aragón: Los 80 – Homenaje a la Orquesta Aragón

When rumba – the pure Afro-Cuban music for voices and percussion – filtered down from the Matanzas to Habana, it was only a matter of time before the visceral rhythms would gently nudge against the more balletic ones of the European contradanzas. In this profusion of Afro-Cuban music with Spanish inflections, a unique rhythmic narrative – and balletic – musical idiom was born, reached its apogee with such great charanga ensembles as Arcaño y sus Maravillas and Orquesta Aragón, both of which came to be inextricably associated with the típica Cuban sound of danzón. While the former introduced a final montuno section and incorporated elements of son, replacing danzón as the most popular dance, the latter group – Orquesta Aragón – remained truer to these roots and grew to becoming the stuff of legend.

In the eight decades since it captured the hearts and mind of Cubans, Orquesta Aragón set the model for larger charanga bands, which expanded the instrumentation of the great soneros with violins and flutes. The ensemble became not only one of the most beloved Cuban music groups, but also an ambassador for Cuban music worldwide. In 2019 the group received a well-earned homage. This was hosted by none other than the incomparable Orlando Valle “Maraca“, who brought members of his own ensemble and several special guests to honour Orquesta Aragón and its members – past and present. This concert took place at Cubadisco 2019 and was superbly captured on DVD.

The concert began with a series of songs performed by Maraca with the vivid opener – “Latin for Two” setting the stage for what was to follow. Maraca’s short opening set segued into a memorable interpretation of Chucho Valdés’ iconic “Mambo Influnciado”. The song lifted the curtain on a great concert to follow, bringing on stage the impossibly brilliant violinist form Orquesta Aragón: Lázaro Dagoberto González, whose solo dazzled with his fiery virtuosity and passages played at breakneck speed, yet with depth of emotion – some of it wailing and keening in the upper registers of his instrument. It is followed by a breathtaking solo from trumpeter Mayquel González who, with his unique, sidelong embouchure and phraseology evocative of the great Jazz trumpeters Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard, is among the generation of great young Cuban musicians blazing a new trail in contemporary music on the island.

His solo was followed with an equally brilliant one by saxophonist Michel Herrera, whose fleet-fingered solo was full of flaming phrases that burned up and down the saxophone’s registers. Mr Herrera made way for Alejandro Falcón, who had the “big” shoes of the song’s composer to fill; something he not only filled to distinction, but brought his own silvery touch to the shimmering solo. Maraca himself shows to be in fine form, playing with passion, grace and an unquenchable fire throughout this song – and throughout the entire set. His rhythm section comprising bassist Fabricio Pereira, drummer Martín Alejandro Chávez Báez and percussionist José Julián Morejón Pino bring much colour, and a wall of rhythmic architecture to this music too. Maraca’s group also includes pianist Yadasny José Puntillo Herrera, a magnificent technician and interpreter – who is featured on “Latin for Two” and “Danzón Barroco”.

The second half of the concert [after “Mambo Influenciado”] was given to the great ensemble Orquesta Aragón, in whose honour the concert was hosted. The music was familiar to the rapt and excited audience not only because of the longevity of the group and its classic songs, but because the music of Orquesta Aragón – after 80 years – is now part of the heart and soul of its dyed-in-the-wool Cuban fans of several generations. This was clear not only from the audience reactions to each song no sooner than it began, but also by the manner in which they reacted to the music, participated in it, and cheers their musical heroes on. In this regard, vocalists Juan Carlos Villegas Alfonso and the late Sixto Llorente Terry did a splendid job of keeping the audience enthralled with their narratives. Guest singers – the seductive Osdalgia – especially on the captivating bolero “Tú mi Delirio”, the ever-eloquent Yaima Sáez on “Son al Son” and Yumurí ever the crowd-pleaser, particularly on “Ven Morena”; they all brought the house down with their magical vocalastics.

However, it was clear that the evening belonged not only to these musicians, but principally to Orquesta Aragón. The ensemble was – and continues to be – supreme creators and interpreters of Cuban musical culture. Its members are consistently brilliant. Throughout the concert the players – especially the instrumental soloists and vocalists contribute with great fire and passion, which in turn produces remarkable results, in terms of the sumptuous and seduction of danzón that has come to be inextricably associated with generations of the legendary Orquesta Aragón. And there was no better experience of everything that this great ensemble stands for than on “Ven Morena” and on the pinnacle of the concert, the absolutely riveting rendition of “Sabrosona”.

Track list – 1: Latin for Two; 2: Barroco; 3: Mambo Influnciado; 4: Los 80; 5: Calmito y Marañón; 6: Guajira con tumbao; 7: Tú mi delirio; 8: Ven Morena; 9: Son al son; 10: Pare cochero; 11: Sabrosona

Personnel – Orquesta Aragón – Rafael Lay Bravo: Director, vocals and violin; Lázaro Dagoberto González: violin [3 – 11]; Eric Labant Lay: violin [4 – 11]; Airiel González Arjona: violin [4 – 11]; Rafael Antonio Lay Sánchez: violin [4 – 11]; Eduardo Rubio Pérez: flute [4 – 11]; Guillermo García Valdés: percussion [4 -11]; Orlando Pérez Montero: piano [4 – 11]; Roberto Espinosa Rodriguez: bass [4 -11]; Noberto Consuegra Terry: percussion [4 -11]; José Palma Cuesta: percussion [4 – 11]; Juan Carlos Villegas Alfonso: vocals [4 – 11]; Sixto Llorente Terry: vocals [4 – 11]; Orlando Valle “Maraca”: Music Director and flute [1 – 3, 6  – 11]; Fabricio Pereira: contrabass [1 – 3]; Yadasny José Puntillo Herrera: piano [1 – 3]; Martín Alejandro Chávez Báez: drums [1 – 3]; José Julián Morejón Pino: percussion [ 1 – 3] – with Special Guests – Alejandro Falcón: piano [3, 10, 11]; Michel Herrera: tenor saxophone [1, 3] and alto saxophone [10]; Mayquel González: trumpet [1 – 3, 10]; José Loyola: flute [6]; Osdalgia Lesmes: vocals [7, 10, 11]; Moisés Valle Yumurí: vocals [8, 11]; Yaima Sáez: vocals [9, 10]

Released – 2019
Label – Producciones Abdala
Runtime – 1:21:43

Raul Da Gama
Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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