While a plentiful number of folks in the vicinity have fond memories of following one Jerry Garcia from gig to gig, Markus Puhvel joined quite a different frontman on a tour bus traversing quite a different country. Call him a Fabréhead, if you will, Puhvel spent the most formative of his musical education learning from Cuba’s iconic songwriter and tres player, Cándido Fabré. When Puhvel entered Cuba in 2001 he was a standard guitarist, when he left two years later (after his spontaneous travels alongside Fabré, a “fountain of inspiration”), he was a veritable addict of the tres guitar—and the distinctly bright, joyous sounds of its three pairs of metal strings are now the backbone to his Cuban son band, Bailongo. “I was absolutely transformed by Cuba,” Puhvel says. “I came back and have been playing Cuban music ever since.” With “bailongo” meaning “community dance party,” the six-piece he established two years ago is currently garnering a reputation for one dynamic call-and-response live show that makes the separation between stage and dance floor virtually seamless. Audience and band coalesce as each lights the other’s fire, and a flamboyant, uplifting spirit pervades for an unfailing pick-me-up. “It’s music built for audience participation,” Puhvel says of the band’s set of son standards and original fusion tunes. Polyrhythmic grooves take flight by way of congas, bongos, bass, maracas, clave and … saxophone? Yep. Saxophonist and singer Joe Mancino’s jazz-educated approach on brass replaces the traditional son set-up of trumpet or flute. That bebop-meets-Cuba blend adds to Bailongo’s ability to shift between time-honored Latin folk and jazz sensibilities. “We’re rooted in Cuban traditions,” Puhvel begins, “but taking it different places.” This week’s show at the Cayuga Vault is truly a peek into the closed-off world of Cuba: salsa lessons precede the concert, and a DJ spinning strictly Cuban tunes will fill in the gaps between sets.
8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26. Cayuga Vault, 1100 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $10. 421-9471.
Photo Credit: Charles Mixson