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Cuban rhythms take center stage at Atwood

DANZON: Intricate musical style evokes warm Latin nights

Anchorage Daily News

By ANNE HERMAN
Daily News music reviewer

(Published: February 8, 2004)

Imagine a night when the warm air is scented by spicy ginger, sweet frangipani and the musky smell of cigars. Through an open window elegant women with upswept hair, evening gowns and bare shoulders dance close to dark-eyed men in white tuxedos.

Now imagine the music: rhythmic, swaying, insinuating itself into movements that are sensual and sharp. This is the world conjured by Orchesta la Moderna Tradicion, whose 10 musicians brought the dance rhythms of Cuba to Atwood Concert Hall on Friday evening.

Much of the music they played was in the intricate Cuban danzon style. Alternately sophisticated and earthy, danzon gets its sound from African-influenced rhythms and European ballroom styles. It is also the base for other Latin dances like the cha-cha and the tango. Indeed, many of the program's songs were a mixture of danzon and cha-cha. This definitely was music to dance to, its fluid rhythms and swinging tones irresistible to hips, torsos and feet.

Violinist Tregar Otton's “Mi Cha Cha Cha” opened the evening with a staccato sound like a cat sneaking down an alley. Abrupt stops and starts punctuated the music while piano and woodwinds found some jazzy rhythms. Different melodies swung over one another as the conga and drums kept the song moving forward.

Ignacio Pinero's “Mayeya, no Juegues con los Santos” began with a clarinet's plaintive wail. Violins joined in with rough sounds that complemented the clarinet's edgy voice. But it was the piano that took this song into its swing, making “Mayeya” wonderfully Cuban. Orestez Lopez's “Soy Matancero” had a darker voice drifting through its melodies. Here the clarinet created a sensual ambience with more subtle and elegant sounds.

Musical director Roberto Borrell set the rhythms and pace of the songs, signaling a change in melody or rhythm with shifting percussive sounds so reminiscent of African music forms. Then pianist Robert Karty, clarinetist Don Gardner and flutist Jesus “Chus” Alonzo would pitch themselves into polyrhythms that raced and soared above the other instruments.

Karty's piano playing was particularly spectacular and he took center stage in many of the songs. In Lopez's “Los Tres Bailadores,” Karty launched into jazzy riffs and rhythmic shifts that also accented songs like Beny More's “Amor Fugaz” and Otton's arrangement of “Cenizas.”

Otton's “Goza Conmigo” highlighted Gardner's saucy clarinet which chased notes and melodies all over the place. And a Cuban-laced “I've Got You Under My Skin” turned him into a Latin Benny Goodman, taking the big band sound to the tropics. Alonzo's flute was also a rhythmic accent for many songs, interjecting sonic flights like birds darting in and out of plumeria trees.

The encore work “Paso a Paso” finally let loose the movements held back in all the songs as two couples danced in the aisles. This put the exclamation point to the wonderfully complex and addictive artistry of Orchesta La Moderna Tradicion.

Anne Herman holds a master's degree in dance and has been a consultant for the National Endowment for the Arts.

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