After spending years out of the spotlight in virtual obscurity, Juan Formell and his trend-setting group, Los Van Van, stepped boldly back onto center stage with their 2003 release, En el Malecon de la Habana. With a number of live records to their credit, Los Van Van have always wanted for a record that truly captured their vibrant, electrifying live performance. Often due to low-budget fidelity, Los Van Van live records tend to lack punch and sparkle. This edition, which was nominated for a Latin Grammy in the Contemporary Tropical category, sounds clear and precise, allowing the listener to appreciate the exquisitely tight performance. The pre-timba innovations on the traditional salsa style that made Los Van Van Cuba's most popular dance band are all out in force, including Changuito's use of both timbales and drum set, Cesar Pedroso's brilliant arranging technique, plenty of hip-hop and disco influence, and their trademark percussion breakdown sections. For modern listeners, the recording quality and use of synthesized sounds has made Los Van Van a difficult listen from time to time. En el Malecon de la Habana offers a fresh, unfettered chance to hear these stylistic pioneers, swinging as hard today as they did in 1980. Maybe harder.
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AllMusic Review by Evan C. Gutierrez