If the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon has a downside, it's that the spotlight on vintage Cuban music has left the island's contemporary sounds in the shadows. In the 90s the dominant style in Cuba has been timba, an electric and eclectic elaboration on son practiced by acts like NG La Banda, Manolin, and Charanga Habanera, and while superb modern groups like Los Van Van and Adalberto Alvarez--who've exerted a strong influence on timba--have come through town in the last year, we haven't really had an opportunity to hear the stuff most Cubans actually groove to these days. But that's only one of the reasons this weekend's appearances by Bamboleo are exciting. Led by pianist and composer Lazaro M. Valdes Rodriguez, Bamboleo has a sophisticated pop sensibility, weaving traditional rhythms through funk, R & B, and jazz to produce a slick, relentlessly propulsive mix. The band--which for this tour also includes four horn players, two percussionists, a drummer, and a bassist--can stop on a dime and leap from slow-jam balladeering ("Candil de nieve") to hot instrumental Latin jazz ("El manisero") in a single bound, and the flexible four-singer front line, distinguished by its lush soul-derived harmonies, can go from emphatic to suave in a click of the claves. The production on Bamboleo's new Ya no hace falta (Ahi-Nama) is a little shiny for my taste, but this stuff is made to be experienced live anyway. Friday, 6 PM, African Festival of the Arts, Washington Park near the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place; 312-955-2787 or 312-955-7742. Friday, midnight, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nicole Patterson.