Ruben Alvarez | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Ruben Alvarez 

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RUBEN ALVAREZ

The renewed interest in Latin jazz has produced plenty of salsafied standards and open-ended descargas, which makes it easy to forget that people are writing large-scale compositions for Latin-jazz orchestra--like Chicago percussionist Ruben Alvarez's Raices y sueños--and have been doing so for almost as long as the genre's been around. The best-known movement of Ferde Grofe's 1931 Grand Canyon Suite, for example, borrowed a loping Mexican rhythm from the music of the American southwest. In 1948 percussionist Machito's orchestra, the first great Latin big band, recorded Chico O'Farrill's Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite with guest soloists Charlie Parker and Flip Phillips; 36 years later that same orchestra premiered Randy Weston's 20-minute African Sunrise at the Chicago Jazz Festival, joined by Dizzy Gillespie--who'd already recorded several extended Latin-jazz works under his own name. Alvarez has based his piece on the recent social and musical history of Humboldt Park, which for the last 30 years has been the epicenter of north-side Latino culture. Commissioned by the Chicago Jazz and Heritage Program, Raices y sueños promises to trace the lineage of Latin music from early bomba and the sacred rhythms of bata to ballroom-friendly forms like rumba and cha-cha. Though Alvarez has yet to establish a reputation as a composer, he's a fiery percussionist and soulful bandleader; his groups have shown a knack for detail and texture, and his own rhythm playing has always suggested a strong melodic sense. At this concert he'll have plenty of help: in addition to the Gallery 37 Latin Big Band, a well-rehearsed product of the city's summer arts program for teens, he'll be joined by volcanic trumpeter Tito Carrillo and Fabian Saldaña, a virtuoso on a type of guitar called the cuatro. This is the debut of Raices y sueños; its second performance will take place in a few weeks, as part of the Chicago Jazz Festival. The evening also includes a verbal response to Alvarez's piece by poet David Hernandez, who's been juxtaposing words and music to depict Latino life in Chicago since the early 70s. Friday, 7 PM, Humboldt Park Stables, 3015 W. Division; 312-427-1676.

--NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Brooks.

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