Orquesta Aragon En Route

Orquesta Aragon is yet another ensemble in the cornucopia of Cuban musicians hitting the global market and being embraced by North American audiences. Formed in 1939 in Cienfuegos, far from the city humdrum of Havana, this group, like its counterparts, has decades of musical history and collaborative shifts to its name. The father behind the group is bassist Orestes Aragon, who put together his socialist politics and love of music into creating what became Orquesta Aragon. The group's ethos is fundamentally about playing music for the Cuban people while paying its musicians equally. In that sense, they have been staple fare on afternoon Cuban radio station Progreso for decades, and influential beyond Cuba in spreading the mambo and cha-cha craze that hit America in the '50s. En Route follows two previous albums and is a teasingly style-shifting melange. The mix of genres and rhythmic twists, from a beautiful danzon like "Si Envidia" to the rock'n'roll cha-cha of "Guasabeando El Rock And Roll," are telling of the group's evolution itself. They even cheekily throw in "Cha Cuba," a rap-cha that shows their allegiance to hip-hop as much as it does to Cuban music's capacity to absorb and recreate its form all the time. The songs are all penned by members of the ensemble and highlight a greater emphasis on a string section, with four violinists complemented by flautist Eduardo Rubio, who packs the songs with deft, whimsical solos. The terms bolero, son and cha-cha get tossed around liberally and often inconsequentially but, thankfully, Orquesta Aragon fills En Route with distinctive sounds, where a cross-pollination of styles leads to some surprisingly lovely tunes. (Lusafrica)