There is little but his group’s name to connect Adalberto Alvarez’s music of this century to
that of the previous one. As a young man in the 1980’s with afro and beard, he was leader of two of Cuba’s most important groups in the Son lineage. His first was Son 14, which continued without him when, in 1984, he formed his present band, Adalberto Alvarez y su Son.
Cuba had been the musical capital of at least the Caribbean, if not also Latin America. Under an economic and cultural blockade, by the 1980’s a gulf had opened up between Cuban and other Latin and Caribbean music. Cubans still listened to the outside world as they developed their own new sounds, but few of them could be heard off the island. For whatever reason, one exception was Adalberto Alvarez.
Also a great song writer, Alvarez’s material influenced music abroad like no other Cuban of the time. His rough edged, earthy recordings with both bands were taken up by artists in New York and Puerto Rico. Given a makeover in the style of their new environment, but usually true to Alvarez’s original, they returned as some of the finest, most subtly melodic Salsa ever recorded.
Greatest of all Puerto Rico’s bands, La Sonora Ponceña would have been substantially different without Alvarez. Often renamed, his songs litter their albums through the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, probably more than any other writer. [La] Soledad [Es Mala Consejera], Como Te Quise Yo, Agua A La Candela (original Se Quema La Trocha), [Como Amigos O] Como Amantes come to mind. La Ponceña’s leader and pianist, Papo Lucca, also took his fixation on Alvarez’s songs with him for a collaboration with Ismael Quintana. Vamos, Hablame Ahora appears on the resulting album, Mucho Talento.
Lucca was only one, prominent example. Roberto Roena, Justo Betancourt and Gilberto Santa Rosa also come to mind as salsifiers of Alvarez’s Son. The full list might be quite long.
The Mi Linda Habanera album tends towards upbeat jollity which reminds of Oscar D’Leon, but it’s balanced with depth. There is also Contrólate which harks back to Conjunto Chappottín, and a long gone era. A more recent reference is a remake of his ’90’s hit, ¿Y Qué Tu Quieres que Te Den? This passes through the songs for numerous Orishas during its nearly twelve minutes. The intro to Lección De Amor gives a brief hair on the neck shiver of Son 14’s Cuestiones Del Amor, but Alvarez’s arrangements generally sound closer to the covers of his old material than to his originals. Gone is the exploration of virgin terrain but he still has something to say. The songs are steadier and don’t double in speed in their course, as they used to back then. They’re designed for the Salsa and Casino dancer, at home and abroad.
Star of the show is the title track, Mi Linda Habanera. To me this is a complete beauty, it pushes all my buttons in a way I don’t mind. I could put this in a loop and listen forever. Actually, that’s not a bad idea, so I’ll leave you to sample the tracks…