Illya Kuryaki & the Valderramas

Aplaudan en el Luna

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Contrary to many band reunions, Illya Kuryaki & the Valderramas did not announce their return with a live album but with the tepid Chances, their first studio outing in 12 years and sixth overall. That record turned out to do surprisingly well, even managing to open some doors for the duo in the lucrative U.S. Latin market thanks to the appearance of "Ula Ula" in a chain store commercial, which eventually led to a Latin Grammy and put IKV up on the Billboard again and back on the road across Latin America. Said tour yielded the now unavoidable live album Aplaudan en la Luna, recorded at Buenos Aires' Luna Park in August 2013 and released in the obligatory CD/DVD format. While the group had previously released the live album Ninja Mental in 1996 as part of the MTV Unplugged series, the intimate acoustic format was hardly suited to document the band's party groove and overall trademark insanity. Furthermore, it relied heavily on their commercial breakthrough, Chaco (1995), their most recent album up to that point. Aplaudan en la Luna presents a much more balanced account of their career, leaving all of the Chaco hits but allowing equal coverage to Versus (1997) and Leche (2000) as well as Chances -- sadly, no songs from their first two albums manage to make the cut from set list to track list. Fundamentally, Aplaudan en la Luna showcases a very different band than Ninja Mental, for after Chaco's success IKV had finally acquired the skills and the budget to metamorphose from quirky hip-hop outfit into all-out Latin funk band. In full display thanks to a stage divided in two levels, the IKV umbrella now accommodates as many as 11 performing musicians, from the front duo of Dante Spinetta and Emmanuel Horvilleur to an ace supporting band led by keyboardist Rafael Arcute, augmented by a horn section. It is the latter who makes the most difference, strikingly so in the Chaco selections, which forgo the skeletal instrumentation of the studio originals for the full horn treatment to great effect -- the revamping of "Jaguar House" is particularly inspired. On the other hand, tracks from their post-Chaco releases sound very similar to the studio versions, which in no way subtracts from the pleasure of bringing down the house to the tune of funk juggernauts such as "Coolo," "Jennifer del Estero," and "Jugo." If this live album has one defect, it is that, while not exactly going through the motions, IKV often sound more cool and professional than enthralled about being back on-stage, only getting demonstrative in "Águila Amarilla," their tribute to the late Luis Alberto Spinetta. Perhaps a recording of one of their first gigs rather than a latter-day concert occurring after a grueling reunion tour would have featured a higher emotional quotient. In sum, Aplaudan en la Luna offers abundant proof of IKV's current state of excellent musicianship and showmanship, but ultimately fails to ignite as much as it should.