The Afro-Cuban All Stars may have new stars, but the brightest are in the heavens

But time has had its way. The almost mythical members of Buena Vista have passed on, and now Gonzalez is, himself, the older generation, leading a 12-piece band consisting of players half his age (including his two daughters).

In this performance he never played his trademark tres​ guitar, but stuck to lead and backing vocals while swishing​ at a guiro.

The absence of the tres​ made for a starker​, less elastic ensemble sound, with the traditional three percussionists, joined by three trumpets, piano, bass, electric vibraphone, bass clarinet and lead singer Emilio​ Suarez. A fine example of a Cuban son ensemble, it is closer to Sierra Maestra’s​ sound than the Buena Vista Social Club’s. Suarez​ has an arresting voice and the quality of the musicianship is exceptional, notably from timbale player Caleb Michel, conga player Tany​ Allende, pianist Oldrich​ Gonzalez and the trumpeters.

But the difference is that fine line. What made the Buena Vista Social Club so genre-transcendent was the way the charisma of the performers became palpable in the music, itself. The likes of Compay​ Segundo​ and Omara Portuondo​ (to name just two) don’t come around so often, and this band, for all its fireworks, lacked that ephemeral charisma to cross generational and geographical divides; to lift it from good to great.

Nonetheless, Gonzalez has done all anyone could do in a lifetime to hold aloft the torch of some of the world’s most precious musical idioms.




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