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Orquesta La Moderna Tradición
Goza Conmigo
Danzonemos Productions (

cd cover Based in the Bay Area, Orquesta La Moderna Tradición is an ensemble of top-flight local musicians who are dedicated to preserving and promoting Cuban danzón, a style of ballroom music that fuses the rhythms and soul of African rhythms and percussion with the sophistication of classical European arrangements and instrumentation. Their second album, Goza Conmigo is a brilliant exploration of danzon, chachachá, and son that could do for danzón what Big Bad Voodoo Daddy did for swing in the 1990s.

Danzón developed in Cuba in the late 1800s, and was the local interpretation of the European waltzes and danzas that were all the rage in upper-class ballrooms. Cuban musicians kept the flute, piano and violins of the European versions, and added congas, timbales, bongos and other percussion to create a unique tropical twist. Most classic danzones start with a slow, orchestrated section that would sound right at home in a fancy French restaurant. Suddenly the bandleader emits a loud grunt and the groove kicks in. What began as an effete, classical sounding piece suddenly becomes a down-and-dirty Cuban dance number. In its day, Cuban danzón was one of the most popular dance styles across Latin America, and it led directly to the development of Argentinean tango and the chachachá of the 1950s.

The heart and soul of La Moderna Tradición is Roberto Borrell, a musician and dancer from Cuba who was a regular at the elegant dancehalls of Old Havana's social clubs in his youth. After the Cuban Revolution, when most of the social clubs were closed down, Borrell joined the National Folkloric Dance Company where he trained and performed with the most respected masters of the Afro-Cuban tradition. After leaving Cuba in 1980 as part of the infamous Mariel boatlift, Borrell traversed the U.S., teaching and performing with popular salsa bands. In San Francisco, Borrell discovered a collective of like-minded devotees to the classic danzón sound and a local audience that understood how music performed on violins and in tuxedos could be cool.

Goza Conmigo reveals why this older style deserves to be preserved. The music has the same timeless, nostalgic quality of early jazz and swing. The album's opening track, "Mi Chachachá," is a gorgeous chachachá composed by co-director and violinist Trevor Otton. Guitarist Jorge Liceaga lays down a tasty solo that would make Django Reinhardt proud. The son "Mayeya, no Jueges con los Santos" begins with the sound of a needle touching down on a scratchy 78 of the original version recorded by Septeto Nacional in the 1930s. A plaintive clarinet plays as if through the horn of an old mono Gramaphone. Slowly, lush violins enter, then a swinging piano, and before you know it you've been transported from the past to the present, and into a soulful contemporary Cuban beat that will definitely get your feet moving.

Goza Conmigo is a subtle yet masterful record that was clearly made with a tremendous amount of care and love, as well as plenty of fun. The band recognizes that while danzón has conservative and restrained elements, it is at heart music for dancing and romancing. - Jacob Edgar

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