Ralph Irizarry & Son Cafe | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Ralph Irizarry & Son Cafe

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A veteran of Puerto Rico's mighty El Gran Combo and bands led by Ray Barretto and Ruben Blades, timbales master Ralph Irizarry formed his first ensemble, Timbalaye, in the mid-90s. While the group's arrangements, tunes, and extended solos are all squarely within the jazz tradition, you can still hear the influence of those juggernaut Latin dance bands in its sound. In lieu of a trap drummer, Timbalaye employs a more traditional Latin rhythm section--Irizarry's own timbales and a killer conguero--which gives the music an airy lift; and when one of Timbalaye's horn players cuts loose with a solo, the rest of the players egg him on with tight, subtle riffing even as they maintain the hypnotic lockstep groove. Now Irizarry has made a full return to his dance-band roots with a straight-up salsa project, Son Cafe. The eight-piece is fronted by Elsa Ozuna, a young Dominican powerhouse whose brassy pipes bring to mind Celia Cruz. For Saturday's performance the band will be joined by the great trombonist Jimmy Bosch, whose own superb salsa dura band will play earlier in the evening at SummerDance and the following night at Ravinia. Friday, August 13, 7:30 PM, Spirit of Music Garden, Grant Park, Michigan between Harrison and Balbo; 312-742-4007 (free). Saturday, August 14, 10:30 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707 ($20).

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