If the packed house at Catalina’s recognized Andy Garcia’s name only by his film reputation, they were in for a pleasant surprise, as the 2 ¾ hour evening had the star giving tribute and historical education in both word and music to the rich culture of his native country Cuba.
Sitting behind his bongos, Garcia opened the evening reading a moving poem dedicated to the recently departed compatriot Julio Mechoso. From there, the 10 piece and 3 vocalist band lead by Danilo Lozano delivered a sizzling evening dedicated to Afro-Cuban legends such as Israel “Cachao” Lopez. The audience could sense something special was in the air when legends like Justo Almario/ts-cl and Arturo Sandoval/tp are sidemen on pieces like “Desarga Cubana” and “Emboba.” The horns volleyed back and forth like a jai alai tournament, the rhythm team of Nelson Gonzales/tres, Luis Conte/timb, Chico Sanchez/cong and Carlos de Puerto smoldered like a Montecristo #2 to the intoxicating pulses on material such as “Pa Que Gozem” and “A Gozare Con Mi Combo” while violinist Dayren Santa Maria added a sensuous gypsy flairs with her solos, Sandoval reached the stratosphere with his piercingly bel canto horn, the team of Lazaro Gallaraga, Nelson Marquez and Iris Cepeda brought passionate earthy and festive vocals.
As with all things Cuban, romance and melancholia are never far away, and Gallaraga teaming with Cepeda didn’t disappoint, with an agonizing duet of “Lagrimas Negras” that began with tender pleading before the band popped the gear of the ’57 roadster and cruised in overdrive on Calle Mercaderas with the rhythm and horns building up into a gurgling volcano and finally erupting into a hot lava of irresistible sounds. So infectious was the music that not only were the patrons dancing in the aisles, but they were grabbing the waiters as partners; how many times have you seen that?
In order to let the audience catch its collective breath, Garcia let the band take five and joined his bongos with de Puerto’s bass and Almario’s clarinet for a richly traditional and buoyant “A Fin Te Vi.” The interplay brought sonic images of village life, percolating like a pot of Bustelo coffee.
Garcia also surprised the audience as he proved to be not only an impressive singer, but he even switched to piano for a handful of tunes, delivering a heartfelt recitative “The Angels Cried.” Educating the audience on the various styles of Cuban music like a seasoned music professor, Garcia had the band deliver a seductively old school pulse of “Mambo” with Lozano’s flighty flute as well as letting Cepeda sing with defiance over the relentless V8 engine of sound on “ Bemba Colora” and create a stampede like the Bull Run at Pamplona on “Guajira Cine Son.” By the time Garcia and the CIneSon Allstars closed out with “Lindo Yambu,” you had to wonder if the famous actor is more comfortable in front of a camera or behind the congas and cowbell.