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Eliades Ochoa: Sublime Illusion

Never underestimate the power of a hit, or the positive aspects of western cultural interlopers. When world music-savvy Ry Cooder went down to Cuba a few years back to pursue his fascination with old school masters of son music, the resulting project was Buena Vista Social Club-with a companion documentary by Wim Wenders. It seems to have launched a bonafide phenomenon of Cuban veterans suddenly granted access to large audiences internationally.

One of the musicians involved was Eliades Ochoa, at 52, one of the younger members of the seasoned entourage. A singer with a rich tone and a range of inflections that tell stories on their own, Ochoa has released a rousing collection of tunes from the son tradition, Sublime Illusion (Higher Octave 72438; 58:00). Recorded with his group, Eliades Ochoa y El Cuarteto Patria, and also invited stateside guests, Cooder, David Hidalgo, and Charlie Musselwhite, who join in on the tellingly titled “Teje Que Teje (Weaving and Weaving).” The guitarists are pretty much in the indigenous cultural groove, but Musselwhite’s blues harping riffs represent a charming curve ball thrown into the son vocabulary.

Not incidentally, Ochoa also plays a mean tres, with rough and passionate sound interjected between vocal lines, or sometimes stretching out on an extended improvisatory journey, as on “Un Negrito en La Habana (A Black Boy in Havana)” and “Mi Guarita.” Pentatonic-based folk grounding meets an improv-fortified sense of soul and touches of poetic dissonance that reflect the instinctive Cuban flair for making music that is simultaneously earthy and mind-bending.

Originally Published