Sierra Maestra | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Sierra Maestra




Thanks to the twin roots projects guitarist Ry Cooder threw his weight behind in 1997--the Grammy-winning Buena Vista Social Club and the Afro-Cuban All Stars' Grammy-nominated A toda Cuba le gusta--and the meteoric rise of trumpeter Jesus Alema–y's Cubanismo!, the current level of interest in Cuban music rivals the 50s mambo craze. But none of this would be happening if it weren't for Sierra Maestra, a brilliant son group that formed in the late 70s (and gave Alema–y his start when he was just 15). At the time, son--a propulsive Afro-Caribbean hybrid dominated by extroverted trumpet and fiery plucking of the tres, a guitar with three sets of doubled strings--was practically moribund. Now son patriarchs Septeto Habanero are enjoying a revival with a fine new album on Circular Moves, veteran guitarist Compay Segundo and pianist Ruben Gonzalez are enjoying newfound celebrity status, and both on and off the island a whole lot of music fans are enjoying son. On Sierra Maestra's own latest album, Tibiri Tabara (World Circuit/Nonesuch), the nine-piece combo revisits the past without getting mired in it--a trick it's been able to pull off since its inception. In fact, most of the album's ten tunes, which include pieces by the great bandleader Arsenio Rodriguez and Celia Cruz's first group, Sonora Matancera, are between 30 and 70 years old, but the elegant, energetic execution frees them from any chronological confines. The seductive layers of percussion, the peerless, high-flying trumpet playing of Barbaro Teuntor Garcia, and the lusty tres playing of Juan de Marcos Gonzalez (who is absent from the group on this tour) simultaneously give the music a boundless energy and a thoroughly contemporary polish. And even the record is bound to sound dull next to the live performance. Sunday, 7 and 9:30 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Sevil Sert.

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