LOS VAN VAN
There's quite a bit of boasting on Los Van Van's new Llego . . . Van Van ("Van Van Is Here") (Caliente/Atlantic): on the opener, "Permiso que llego Van Van," no less than the Afro-Cuban saints are singing the group's praises, and on "La bomba soy yo" lead singer Mario "Mayito" Rivers shrugs off any and all who'd question his talent. But as the musicians led by bassist Juan Formell celebrate their 30th year as a band, they have plenty to brag about. They've consistently been on the cutting edge of Cuban music, injecting electric bass, trombones, and synthesizer into the violin-and-flute dominated sounds of charanga bands like Orquesta Reve--with which Formell started out--and bringing in rock and soul influences as well. They called their innovations songo, although over the past decade they've been absorbed into the more sweepingly modern, commercial phenomenon called timba. But as good as successors like NG La Banda and Charanga Habanera may be, they can't touch Los Van Van for exuberance, muscularity, and precision. The tunes, by Formell and his longtime pianist, Cesar Pedroso, are powered by the group's killer rhythm section, fleshed out by punchy, three-trombone horn charts, elaborate violin lines, and darting flute patterns, and topped by the sumptuous vocal harmonies of Rivers, Pedro "Pedrito" Calvo, and Roberto Hernandez; and the whole ensemble--16 members total--can still stop on a dime. Live, this is a party band with a capital P. Barbarito Torres, the charismatic lute player from Buena Vista Social Club, opens. Thursday, September 23, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-527-2583 or 312-923-2000. Los Van Van is also scheduled to play a free in-store performance at noon the same day at Crow's Nest Music, Chicago Music Mart, DePaul Center, 333 S. State; 312-362-6700. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Fadil Berisha.