The impassioned music of this Bay-area Afro-Cuban combo provides a serious challenge to New York's hegemony on the salsa scene. With their somewhat folkloric stylistic diversity Conjunto Cespedes paint a significantly more inclusive picture of Cuban music than the reigning stars in New York, many of whom aren't even Cuban. On a pair of excellent albums for Green Linnet, including the recent Vivito y Coleando, this large ensemble freely interprets and updates Cuba's myriad musical flavors. The new album opens with a blazing version of the Celina Gonzalez vehicle "Que Viva Chango." Also done memorably by Celia Cruz, this number is perhaps the best-known Santeria song, and Gladys "Bobi" Cespedes sings it with considerable verve and plenty of soul. Rumbas, sambas, ballads, songos, sons: Conjunto Cespedes perform them all, whether accented with fiery jazz inflections or folkie simplicity. Both albums are peppered with salutes to various orishas, the deities of the Catholic-Yoruban-fused religion; in addition to performing classic material by the likes of Beny More and Elio Reve, the group has also built a substantial, satisfying original repertoire. Unusual instrumentation--a multitude of percussion, horns, acoustic guitar, and violin--allows them to traverse this diverse territory with unswerving confidence. Conjunto Cespedes perform as part of the Viva! Chicago Festival, the city's annual free Latin music festival. Saturday, 6:25 PM, Petrillo Music Shell, Grant Park, Columbus and Jackson; 744-3370.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Irene Young.