Plena Libre

Evolucion

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Not content with being perhaps the best-known purveyors of plena outside of their native Puerto Rico, Plena Libre have dramatically expanded their sound on Evolucion. This is no lame pop-crossover attempt, however, but an album that places the group's preferred styles of plena (basically, a native form of folk music that is to Puerto Rico roughly what calypso is to the Bahamas) and bomba (dramatic, danceable music based on African-originated forms) in the larger context of Afro-Cuban and Latin musical forms. So instead of infusing their material with American pop influences -- an approach that almost never works -- Plena Libre add bits of bossa nova, merengue, and other familiar forms to their own distinctive style. It works a treat, with fleet acoustic guitar trills, honking baritone sax, bata drums, and every imaginable form of hand percussion percolating underneath the group's mass-chanted vocals. In keeping with the group's deep connections to Puerto Rican musical history, however, three of the songs were written by Angel Luis Torruellas, a living legend who would be first pick for Puerto Rico's version of the Buena Vista Social Club, and he provides lead vocals on one track, a fiery, piano-led Latin jazz rendition of his standard "Yenyere."

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