April 10th, 2012
In this third presentation of the Earshot Jazz Spring Series, Sierra Maestra put on a spell binding performance on Saturday March 31st at Town Hall, that had a large portion of the audience up on the floor dancing the entire concert with some so moved they came up on the stage for brief cameos.
Revered in Cuba for decades, Sierra Maestra was originally formed by Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, who subsequently served as guiding spirit and musical director for the Buena Vista Social Club. As the first of the modern-era groups to play in the old-style son lineup – tres, guitar, trumpet, bongo, guiro and vocals – Sierra Maestra recalls the style’s golden age of the 1920s and 30s.
Five of the original nine members remain: Alejandro Suarez Galarraga, band director and claves; Carlos Puisseaux Mansfarroll, guiro; Eduardo Himely Pino, bass; Luis Barzaga Sosa, vocals; Alberto Virgilio Valdes Decalo, vocals and maracas. They are pioneers in reviving this style for new generations and reintroducing it into the Cuban – and global – mainstream.
Joining the five originals are Yelfris Valdes Espinosa, trumpet; Eduardo “Niquito” Rico Menendez, bongos, congas and cowbell; Jesus Bello Diaz, vocals and acoustic guitar; Emilio Ramos Batista, vocals and tres.
The group was nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2010 and now celebrates 35 years since their formation. World Music Central says, “If son is indeed the soul of Cuba, then Sierra Maestra are the heartbeat at the center of that soul.”
Though son is a traditional, rural music with roots that stretch back almost a century, this simply isn’t a golden oldies kind of a band. Yes, four-part harmonies and acoustic instruments, but Sierra Maestra is as formidable and powerful a band as the mountain range in eastern Cuba for which they are named – their tribute to the birthplace of son.
Check out Rumbero Soy (2002), on which the group invites guest guitarist Marc Ribot for a couple of tracks and guests Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo of the Buena Vista Social Club for additional vocals. It’s a great recording that ventures beyond traditional son. Also seek out Tibiri Tabara (2005), a challenge in the age of embargo.