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Alex Cuba Band at The Highline Ballroom

Ernest Barteldes By

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Alex Cuba Band
Highline Ballroom
New York City
Oct. 10, 2009

On his first proper US tour following the release of Agua Del Pozo (Caracol, 2007), Alex Cuba took the stage backed by a strong band rounded out by Robert Johns(electric bass) and Robert diPietro (drums), playing an extended set that showcased his intriguing mix of Afro-Cuban beats with jazz, funk and rock.

Cuba has strong stage charisma and great guitar skills that may remind many of performers like George Benson, Carlos Santana and Stevie Ray Vaughan. His playing is disciplined but he surprises the audience at times with spontaneous explosions of improvised guitar riffs and solos.

He got fans to sing along with him early in the set during the chorus "Si Pero No," one of the strongest tracks on his new CD. He addressed fans both in English and Spanish, often explaining what songs were about.

The concert alternated between up-tempo tunes like the ska-inflected "Tu Boca No Quita" and soft ballads, played without his band's backing. Among those was "Mi Plan," a Bolero-like tune written in collaboration with Canadian pop singer- songwriter Nelly Furtado (released on Furtado's 2009 disc of the same name).

One could notice that the band was very well rehearsed—Cuba and Johns traded solos seamlessly, and di Pietro provided percussive phrasing that contrasted well with what the two guitarists were doing before him. He paid tribute to Tito Puente and Santana by including a wordless snippet of "Oye Como Va" at the end of "Agua del Pozo," which got thunderous applause.

As the show neared conclusion, Johns and di Pietro left the stage while Cuba took requests from the crowd, who shouted for tunes that he had not yet played. They returned for the finale, a funky tune that included more solos from the three musicians. The encore earned them a standing ovation as they left the stage.

As the allotted time for the concert was spent, Cuba could not play an encore— but he did come back to the microphone (sans guitar) to explain this.

Cuba's undeniable talent and charm make him one of the Latin Alternative acts to watch out for in 2010.

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