Orlando "Maraca" Valle is one of Cuba's greatest Latin-jazz flute players, as evidenced by his work in the legendary Irakere and on solo albums like 1996's Havana Calling (Qbadisc). But his effervescent talent is matched by his business acumen. When the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon took off in the late 90s, Valle quickly got in on the action: he began to make music for the dancers instead of the listeners, delving into the son tradition that gave birth to Latin jazz. Superb albums like Sonando and Descarga total, both released in the U.S. on the Ahi-Nama label, showed he wasn't slumming: his band, Otra Vision, was filled with terrific instrumentalists and singers, and the mix of classic and newer material proved infectious and energizing. He's never attempted to ape the magisterial nostalgia of the Buena Vista crew, and now he's cast his net wider than ever on the new Tremenda rumba!, surveying not only numerous Cuban forms--zesty son, stately danzon, the voice-and-percussion-driven guaguanco, contemporary funk-fueled timba, and the Carnaval form called conga--but other Latin American and Caribbean traditions as well. There's a bit of Colombian cumbia in "El fuelle," and guest vocalist Ammiel Castellanos brings a touch of Jamaican dancehall to "Castigala"; and there's even a house-driven remix tacked onto the end of the album. While Valle's prodigious flute playing may be scarce, his wise leadership isn't--though the album's rather amazing cohesiveness can also be explained in part by the inherent flexibility of Cuban music, which has always elaborated on its past with ease. The unifying thread, of course, is those unrelenting rhythms. Friday, June 21, 7:30 PM, Spirit of Music Garden, Grant Park, Michigan between Harrison and Balbo; 312-742-4007. Saturday, June 22, 2:30 PM, Summer Solstice Celebration 2002, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago; 312-280-2660; 5:30 PM, Fiestas Puertorriquenas, Humboldt Park, 1400 N. Sacramento; 773-292-1414.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Sergio Romero.