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Pop Music Review

Orquesta Aragon's Return Stirs L.A.'s Memory Lane

September 29, 1997|ERNESTO LECHNER

In its first Los Angeles appearance in nearly four decades, Orquesta Aragon demonstrated Friday night at the Hollywood Palladium why it is one of the most stirring and revered bands in the history of Cuban music.

The orchestra is known for its charanga sound, a branch of Afro-Caribbean music that underscores the wide scope of the music generally known as salsa.

Charanga is a delightful hybrid of violins, flute and a supple rhythm section, showcasing at once the influence of the vitality of African beats and the sophistication of traditional Spanish folklore.

The song "Calculadora," for instance, is a cynical, tongue-in-cheek ode to a female gold digger. The casual salsa fan might know the tune as sung in the '70s by Oscar D'Leon in a fast, dance-oriented version.

Aragon has turned the same song into a timeless jewel by injecting pensive nostalgia in the strings and an uplifting four-part vocal harmony.

It was soon clear Friday that the evening was geared toward the fans of more traditional Cuban fare. If recent concerts by such Cuban groups as Los Van Van or NG La Banda appealed to seekers of hypersensual, syncopated salsa by offering new approaches to the Afro-Caribbean sound, the Orquesta Aragon remains an authentic and ultimately more satisfying affair.

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