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Maraca y Otra Visiun: Havana Calling

In the waning days of the Castro regime and our unilateral musical embargo, America is beginning to catch up on an embarrassing dearth of cosas cubanas. Prominent among the bands in the new diaspora of Cuban music will be Orlando Valle (a.k.a. Maraca), who writes, leads a 12-piece band, plays flute and piano. Valle, barely 30, honed his chops for all of the above during stints in the bands of Bobby Carcassés, Emiliano Salvador, and, until 1994, six years in Chucho Valdez’s classic-yet-evolving Irakere. In his second lead album, Valle exuberantly combines old and new with guests from Cuba’s deepest West-African traditions (Los Munequitos de Matanzas) and stateside funk (altoist Lenny Pickett). Otra Visiûn-distinguishing itself with distinctive two-flute lead lines by Valle and his wife, Céline-also exhibits the tendencies of Cuban bands to play at speedy, joyous tempos with snappy execution, all fired by an amazingly precise percussion section, in this case featuring ten-year-old Yutien Oviedo.

“El Tren,” the opening gambit, runs the stylistic gamut featuring two guests: Pickett plying sassy fusion alto and Ang (extraordinary conguero [conga player] Miguel Dîaz) who lashes inspired call-and-response with Valle’s fluid crystalline flute, capped with a spirited conjunto. The complexity and joy of the fusions is exemplified by the arrangement of Cedar Walton’s “Bolivia,” which evolves from funk to swift Latin unisons to male voices chanting opposite full band. Change-oriented bop is given fair reign on the jam-length “Manamana” and “Nueva Era,” both of which have tart solos by trumpeter Alexander Brown, hot skins and rims by Roberto Vizcaéno, and end going full-throttle rumba. Pretty ballads are a part of the picture too, like “Monte Adentro,” a bolero featuring soprano sax and two flutes, and “La Vela,” a traditional romantic vocal for Yumurí Valle.

Valle, like his ex-boss Valdez, was on the scene everywhere at Havana’s Jazz Festival, flute in hand for jams with Roy Hargrove and Charles Craig, and shows with Otra Vision. When Havana calls, Valle will be on the party line.

Readers may request a catalog of Qbadisc and other Cuban music-much of it steeped in jazz traditions both old (Dizzy Gillespie) and new-from: Qbadisc, P.O. Box 1256, Old Chelsea Station, NY, NY 10011.

Originally Published