Sergent Garcia | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Sergent Garcia 

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On paper the idea of a French band playing a blend of Cuban son, reggae, dancehall, funk, and hip-hop sounds about as stilted and overblown as you can get, but on his terrific debut album, Un poquito quema'o (Higher Octave World), former punk rocker Sergent Garcia and his eight-piece band mix it up as naturally and unself-consciously as a kid making chocolate milk. It's actually not a new hybrid--French legends Mano Negra did it in the early 90s, tossing in some rai and some rock 'n' roll for good measure--but this part of the world seems better prepared to like it these days thanks to the growing popularity of Cuban music as well as bands like LA's Ozomatli. Garcia, the son of a Spanish father and a French mother, filters everything through an Afro-Latin sensibility: on the sprightly dancehall tune "Medecine Man," which chugs along on hearty organ and clavinet riffs, he toasts in French, but there's a potent, well-placed montuno break, and jaunty flute patterns continually shadow the action. Likewise, on the skankin' "Acabar mal" subtle Afro-Cuban percussion accents waft through the mix. But when the band takes on a relatively straight-up salsa number like "Llevale mi canto," reggae breaks shift the tempo and scratching and tasteful electronic textures tug gently at the unstoppable groove. This is first-rate party music--it never basks in its own cleverness, and each component is energized by careful contrast with the others. Los Lobos headline. Friday, 8 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine; 773-275-6800 or 312-559-1212. PETER MARGASAK

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