Whether it bursts onto the sidewalk from a bustling café or wafts over high-stone walls from a carnival parade blocks away, music in Cuba is omnipresent and multi-faceted. Cubalive!: Recorded Live in Cuba culls its 13 tracks from the three previously released volumes of Rounder's Routes of Rhythm series. So, while it's technically volume four, it's actually a comprehensive introduction to the series as it stands. Developed in conjunction with the PBS production Routes of Rhythm With Harry Belafonte, the series presents live recordings of Cuban music as it happens. The set includes gentle acoustic ballads, street jams, religious celebrations, and the sultry sounds of carnival. Guitar virtuoso Isaac Oveido's "Mi Botijia and "El Buen Camino" capture the intimate quality of watching a master perform up close, while insistent congas and flawless harmonies drive los Munequitos de Matanzas' "El Tocoloro." There is an unwritten law that all Cuban music collections must include at least one version of "Guantanemera"; fortunately, Duo del Bodeguita del Medio's take on the signature tune captures the lively spirit of the Bodeguita del Medio, where it was recorded. Linking the collection's disparate sounds are three versions of the Septeto Nacional de Ignacio Pinero's distinctive son, the traditional Cuban song form incorporating the country's entire musical history. But what truly make this collection entertaining are the incidental moments of these live recordings -- clapping, yelling, people having a good time. And that sounds good in any language.
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus