Junio Groove review on The Arts Desk

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Asere Junio Groove (Astar Records)

By Sue Steward

A clutch of neo-retro son bands – including Asere – thrived during the Buena Vista phenomenon, and rose from Havana’s tourist bars and street parties to globe-trotting tours of Europe. But with the waning of BV, a reinvention away from the aged classics was vital; Asere kept hold of the early 20th-century son style (preserved in Oriente’s correctly trumpet-led version), avoided the spread of electronic Reggaeton, and dug themselves into the countryside of Andalucia, dripping flamenco into their songs in an easy, historically logical liason. “Harissa” (the North African hot sauce equivalent to salsa) goes furthest into that fusion with the lead singer David Echevarria’s tone sharper-than-son sweetness but mild compared to flamenco’s uncontrolled passion; the guitar’s note-bending is unmistakeably oud-like.

Voices are focal here and led by Echevarria and Vicente P Arencibia. Of the nine songs, “El Cantante” (the Singer) causes me problems. Written by salsa singer and poet-songwriter Ruben Blades, and immortalised by the late Puerto Rican salsa icon Hector Lavoe, it is a reminder that intellectual property rights should surround certain songs. There is only one Cantante. Lavoe’s rough, untrained, intuitively sublime countryman’s singing carries the history of the island’s music on every note, while David Echevarria represents the trained and too clean perfection of many young Cuban voices. However – elsewhere – the two men turn in some glorious performances. For the rumba, “Yo naci en un Solar” (I was born in a tenement), Echevarria’s chant-singing and the accompanying male choruses channel us deep into the earthy soulfulness of Afro-Cuban music, accompanied by a low-key bluesy-flamenco electric guitar and surprisingly reserved drumming.

The diversity of this collection reflects the new openness possible today in Cuba. Influence from once-taboo salsa is strong: Ruben Blades’s distinctively nasal, yearning singing style permeates several songs including “Sonamos flamenco”, where it effectively merges into a backdrop of gypsy flamenco. “Psycologia” shows obvious influence, in the tremulous moments, from Miami superstar, Willie Chirino – a fact, until recently, unimaginable. These explorations are yielding unpredictable results, and here, work beautifully. Alas, the sleeve offers no information about the songs or musicians, just 11 pages of photographs and two of thanks from the band!