It was inevitable that, after the success of “Buena Vista Social Club” (the album, the tour, the movie, the after-dinner mint), a self-determined Cuban revival would take place and we’d get flooded with albums that “embrace the spirit of the Social Club.” What wasn’t inevitable was that one of them would actually be better than “Buena Vista.”
With a lineup of Cuban-American and Afro-Cuban musicians like Francisco Aguabella (a conga player and percussionist who is enjoying a bit of a popular revival on his own), bassist Al McKibbon, trombonist Jimmy Bosch and the legendary pianist Chucho Valdes, Caravana Cubana is less a band than a loose-knit group of like-minded musicians. With sessions taking place in Los Angeles throughout the late summer of 1998, Caravana Cubana was exactly the same sort of reunion sessions that “Buena Vista” was, bringing together musicians (from both Cuba and the States) with long mutual histories as well as some new faces. The result is a remarkably loose and swinging affair that simply beams with musical joy.
However, where “Late Night Sessions” succeeds over its unmentioned predecessor is the infusion of new Cuban blood (such as the youngsters in Bamboleo) and the unmistakable energy that the younger players add to the sessions. On tracks like “Una Rumba Con Dos Tres” and “Anga Y Jimmy,” the interplay is spectacular, and as a result, the songs are powerfully rump-shakable. However, the old guys can certainly hold their own, too. On the lengthy “Afrekete Suite” (a three-part homage to Yemaya, the goddess of the sea) and “Chucho Carabali” (driven primarily by Valdes’ expressive piano work), they prove that they’re far from nostalgic and wind up pushing the genre a lot further than you’d expect.
Nonetheless, “Late Night Sessions” ultimately boils down to a good time, because, to be sure, all the musicians involved had a good time. And now, that same thing can be had by folks who care more about doing the rumba than they do about raft boy Elian Gonzalez.