A full body cast is the only plausible excuse for a Latin music fan to have missed Tuesday evening's knockout double bill featuring Barbarito Torres and Los Van Van at the Birchmere. The capacity crowd took full advantage of the ample dancing space, moving to Afro-Cuban rhythms ranging from tipico to fusion.
Virtuoso guitarist Barbarito Torres and his conjunto lit up the first act with a vivid program of tipico (traditional) Cuban songs like "Sarandonga" and "Corazon de Chivo." Torres' solos, as light and as strong as spider silk, were at once grounded and highly innovative. And no computer chip yet devised can replicate the sonorously percussive thump of an acoustic bass. Doubling on vocals, bassist Victor Villa's luscious tenor expressed the very essence of the bolero "Pensando en Ti." Still full of vinegar, guest vocalist Pio "Mentiroso" Leyva, one of several Afro-Cuban musical gems unearthed by the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon, joined the ensemble for several numbers, including "Cangrejo No Tiene Na."
The timeless soul of straight-ahead tipico is a hard act to follow. Luckily, someone had the foresight to engage Cuba's foremost contemporary dance ensemble, Los Van Van. Though always in a groove, bassist and musical director Juan Formell's pioneering fusion band seemed to take a song or two to cut loose. But with biting, complex brass riffs and percussion vamps, it allowed the recent hit "Esto Pone la Cabeza Mala" to take its own head, the musicians giving themselves over to the funk. Add to this the hip-hop-infused vocals from Pedro Calvo, Roberto Hernandez and Mario Rivera, and there was no stopping Los Van Van, as it roared to a finish with one of its signature tunes, "Azucar."