Felix Baloy

The Afro-Cuban All Stars' first album, A Toda Cuba Le Gusta, came out in this country at the same time as the original Buena Vista Social Club. Producer Juan de Marcos Gonzalez links the two projects. He recruited many of the Buena Vista musicians, arranged the charts and even played on the album. Gonzalez has since served as director of the Afro-Cuban All Stars and started his own label to record other son bands and orquestas. His vision is to reinvigorate the big-band sound of Cuba's "golden era," the pre-Castro 1950s.

Here vocalist Baloy fronts the cream of Cuba's musical corps in a program of country son, with a Havana urban accent. At 56, Baloy is decades younger than most of the Buena Vista vocalists. His rough, authentic voice rips over the brass, flutes, strings and piano. On the title song, Baloy offers three rounds of improvisations over an insistent chorus while the tune builds to a feverish climax. One can easily smell the salt air of the Havana waterfront in every line of this tasty number. There is an occasional slow tune like the bolero "Despues de esta Noche" which allows Baloy to showcase his firm, assured voice. But the up-tempo sones like "El Mal de la Hipocresia," in which Baloy preaches and scolds a wicked lover while the brass underlines his excoriations with scorn, are the album's staple, its arroz con pollo.

On "El Son de Baloy," the singer toasts the sonero's art, the music that makes one's blood run hot with passion and cold with suffering. To understand this song is to understand the mythos of Cuban music. Even with the recent glut of Cuban product, this CD stands out as a must-buy.

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Aaron Howard