Barbarito Torres | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Barbarito Torres 

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On his second solo album, the recently released Barbarito Torres (Havana Caliente/Pimienta), the Buena Vista Social Club laud player doesn't mess with success. As on 1999's terrific Havana Cafe, he delivers a dynamic mixture of classic Afro-Cuban sounds, slightly tweaked. The atypical addition of Torres's laud (a variant of the lute) to instrumentation standard among the island's early son groups (two percussionists, a guitarist, a tres player, a bassist, a trumpeter, and a singer) yields an impressive tangle of three stringed instruments whose rollicking arpeggios, resonant chords, and piquant lead patterns are hard to resist, whether channeled into sanguine boleros or hard-driving sones. A number of guest vocalists, including fellow Buena Vista charter members Pio Leyva and Omara Portuondo, make valuable contributions, but the group has some pretty good singers of its own: Torres's wife, Sonia Perez Cassola, his sister, Conchita Torres, bassist Victor Villa, and guitarist Nilso Arias. On a few tracks, like "El ruisenor del guateque" and "El cuarto de Tula," they indulge in some overly fancy harmonies that sound uncomfortably like the Manhattan Transfer, but for the most part they stick to straightforward lead vocal turns. Torres asserts that the album was intended to prove the laud's compatibility with any Cuban style, and indeed, his playing suits every guaracha, cha-cha, nengon, and changui the group tackles. But it's on his bold duet with pianist Chucho Valdes that Torres takes some real chances: interpreting the Ernesto Lecuona classic "La comparsa," the duo exchange probing, fiery solos, and if Torres can't match the torrential outbursts of rhythmic clusters unleashed by the pianist, he equals him in terms of melodic fluency. In concert the group sometimes tries a bit too hard to please, with Torres playing the laud behind his head and dishing hokey banter between songs. A band this good doesn't need that kind of help. Friday, November 14, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.


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