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MUSIC

Flute-Flavored Salsa

Maraca will perform solos, backed by his band steeped in Cuban tradition.

September 03, 1998|ERNESTO LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Virtuoso flutist Orlando "Maraca" Valle is grateful for the rare chance to bring his infectious brand of Latin jazz and salsa to Los Angeles. Ask him about the delicate relationship between his native Cuba and the United States, however, and his amiable, chatty disposition changes.

"I am just a musician, and I really don't understand anything related to politics," he said dryly during a recent telephone interview. "I'm just visiting this country as an artist, a musician, bringing a message of peace, love and joy."

Maraca, who will play his first Los Angeles date Friday night at Sportsmen's Lodge accompanied by his band Otra Vision, is considered one of the hottest new names in Afro-Cuban music.

He is known not only for his dazzling flute solos but also for his uncanny talent for arranging and producing records.

His production credits include a stint with the highly successful combo Cubanismo.

But whereas contemporary salsa bands such as NG La Banda or Los Van Van have tried to modernize (and often bastardize) their sound, Maraca stays closer to tradition, and for a good reason.

"I really think traditional Cuban music shouldn't be lost or forgotten," he emphasized. "You have to know the old music really well before you try to create [the] new one."

Backing that belief, Maraca's new album is a virtual homage to the different styles of Cuban dance music collectively known as "salsa" on this side of the world.

The album, "Sonando," has been released in the U.S. by Los Angeles-based Ahi-Nama, a label whose polished productions could bring broader recognition to Cuban sounds. "I see Cuban music as the product of the fusion of three very strong cultural elements: African, Spanish and French music," Maraca said.

"We took those disparate elements and turned them into music that is distinctly Cuban, through [salsa] genres such as son montuno, the cha-cha-cha and even the descarga [jam session.]"

Indeed, one of the recording's tastiest moments is "Quiero Mi Guajira," a slow, sensuous dance that gets under your skin with its seductive beat and the seasoned voices of such veteran singers as Compay Segundo (known for his participation in Ry Cooder's Buena Vista Social Club recording-sessions project) and Rolo Martinez of Cubanismo.

"We took advantage of Compay Segundo's 90th birthday and invited him to celebrate it on record," Maraca said. "First we recorded a couple of tunes with everybody playing together at the studio, and then we opened the bottles and threw a party for Compay."

It is not surprising that Maraca would show a reverence for musical legends. His career was jump-started when the Cuban group Irakere hired him as flutist and arranger. Maraca stayed six years with the band, playing with masters such as leader-pianist Chucho Valdes and bassist Carlos del Puerto.

"Irakere allowed me to work with phenomenally talented musicians," he said.

"Chucho trained me as musical director and had me conducting the band when we played my own tunes. I had never imagined I would get to conduct Chucho Valdes himself."

By early 1994, the musician felt that Irakere's creative force had dwindled, and decided to leave the band.

"When I was with Irakere, I was impressed by its ability to switch between some serious Latin jazz and dance music. But toward the end of my stay, I felt the group was mimicking the trends that affected salsa at the time. When the group stopped being completely original, I lost interest."

After releasing a solo album on the local EGREM label, Maraca formed Otra Vision, which includes his wife, former student Celine Chauveau-Valle, on flute.

"Our relationship started in Paris, when she was my student and I noticed that she had a lot of talent for Cuban music. Once we became intimate, I suggested to her that you can't only listen to Cuban music, you also need to experience it in person. We've been living on the island since then, and now she's become my producer."

Otra Vision has released two albums of mostly original material, which will be presented at Friday's show. And Pio Leyva, an 81-year-old singer who was also part of the Buena Vista Social Club project, will be there to help preserve the legacy. "I feel the need to rescue those Cuban roots that are not used much in my country's contemporary music," said Maraca emphatically. "My group's name is Otra Vision because of that. We want to prove that we see Cuban music in a different way."

BE THERE

Maraca, at Sportsmen's Lodge, 4234 Coldwater Canyon Blvd., Studio City. 10 p.m. Tickets: $20 advance, $25 at the door. (310) 450-8770.

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