Orquesta Aragon: En Route

Founded by bassist Orestes Aragon Cantero in 1939 in Cienfuegos, Cuba, this string-and-flute charanga helped popularize the cha-cha-cha in the 1950s via its RCA Victor LPs. Important to Orquesta Aragon’s musical excellence was violinist/musical director Rafael Lay and flutist Richard Egues. Their arrangements swung hard with classical inspired boleros and danzones personifying the genre’s French roots but liberating it out of its aristocratic box with Afro-Cuban beats.

Now thanks to Lay’s son, violinist Rafael Jr., Orquesta Aragon is back but with a delightful contemporary twist. After his father’s passing Rafael Jr. discovered he inherited a repertoire of 700 arrangements and decided to restart the group in 1982.

Orquesta Aragon shows it is not just a revival band but modernists expanding the repertoire of charanga music. From the 1950s “rock-cha” beats of “Guasabeando el Rock and Roll” to the “rap cha” of “Cha Cuba,” with some menacing Havana MCs, the ensemble presents a varied plate. “Ahora Si Sabroseao,” “Si Envidia” and “La Gioconda” (written by Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s grandfather Jacobo) are classics but “A Bailar Mi Cha Onda” and “A Gozar la Vida” is the new-millennium Aragon, with a modernistic texture and groove.

Recorded live at Radio Progresso, there’s a brilliance to the sound that clearly captures the nuances of the layers of strings, flute and percussion, showing that this Grammy-nominated ensemble has plenty of years ahead.