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Feeling the Heat With Los Van Van

ASSORTED NOTES | JAZZ

June 16, 1997|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The music is filled with riches. Los Van Van's unusual instrumentation--three trombones, two violins, flute, two keyboards, bass and two percussionists--makes for a wide range of attractive timbres. At the heart of the music, the rhythms move through a constant range of variations. One tune barely comes to a halt before another, equally surging rhythm takes its place.

At the edge of the dance floor, a graying woman, leaning against her husband, is moist-eyed as she listens. "I have loved Los Van Van," she says, struggling to be heard above the crunch of sound, "since I first heard them 25 years ago. And I never thought I would have the chance to see them."

*

Only the recent relaxation of travel restrictions for Cuban bands--Los Van Van has been admitted, curiously, as a "folkloric" group--has permitted such world-class ensembles to finally display their wares to American audiences.

Working before this receptive crowd, the Van Van singers--Mario "Mayito" Rivera, Roberto Hernandez and Calvo--hit their peak. Working the crowd, adding powerful sexual innuendo to their movements, they uncover and display the multiple levels of sensuality that simmer beneath the surface of the lyrics and the rhythms of son and songo.

As the evening, the music and the dancing build to a climax, Susie Hanson, following Los Van Van from the Bowl, hangs out near the edge of the stage, like everyone else in the Palladium, completely enraptured by the music.

"If I had my way," she says, "I'd go to Cuba for a year, just to hear bands like Los Van Van."

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