In the last few years, groups led by Pancho Sanchez, Jerry Gonzalez, and Hilton Ruiz have modernized (some would say diluted) the salsa tradition, making mainstream jazz--bebop and beyond--a more important part of the recipe; but it's that original salsa tradition that gets a simultaneous pat on the back and boot in the pants from Samuel del Real's crew. A lively pianist, who uses the instrument in much the way a conductor uses his baton, del Real heads up a crackerjack outfit ripe with percussion and redolent with the sweet harmonies of two trumpets. Del Real hires solid jazz players on the horns; they cement the band's improvisatory credentials, and even allow the band to sail into a jazz standard like "Green Dolphin Street" without having to offer the slightest apology. But such tunes are the exception, not the rule. And as the piano montuno ripples beneath the infectious singing of the coros, every Cuban wedding band finds its redemption in the indefatigable thrust of del Real's little orchestra. Thursdays, Cafe Continental, 5515 N. Lincoln; 878-7077.