Maraca | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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At the ripe old age of 33, Orlando "Maraca" Valle is a seasoned veteran of Cuban music. In 1988, after serving a short stint with great Cuban pianist Emiliano Salvador, the flute prodigy joined Irakere, the legendary Latin-jazz band led by pianist Chucho Valdes, and at 28 he decided he was ready for his close-up. As heard on Havana Calling (Qbadisc), his U.S. debut, Maraca was bent on adding his own twist to what Irakere did, putting more emphasis on danceability and of course on his own fleet flute tooting. It was a nice recording, but a little self-indulgent. The following year he recorded and played with Jesus Alemañy's dynamic traditionalist outfit Cubanismo, whose propulsive ensemble interplay seems to have inspired the sharper Sonando (Ahi-Nama), from 1998. Maraca's excellent 15-piece band, Otra Vision, sounds even better on the brand-new Descarga total, a survey of Cuban dance forms--from stately danzon ("Havana danzon") to earthy guajira ("Oye guajira mi son") to straight-up salsa ("Solo me quede")--that eschews the fuzzy nostalgia associated with the various Buena Vista Social Club projects. The most self-consciously contemporary tune, the burner "La pelea," features a verbal battle between a sonero and a rapper, but there's plenty of superb traditional singing courtesy of Felix Valdes and Wilfredo Campa, and Maraca once again lives up to his reputation as the successor to one-time Orquesta Aragon flutist Richard Egues: his rhythmically daring, lyrically swift solos are out of this world. This concert kicks off the city's free Summerdance series; dance lessons start 90 minutes before the performance. Thursday, July 13, 7:30 PM, Grant Park, Spirit of Music Garden, between Harrison and Balbo; 312-742-4007. PETER MARGASAK

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