Gig review: Sierra Maestra, The Jam House, Edinburgh

LAUNCHED in January, Salsa Buena is a new monthly night aiming to build on Edinburgh’s intermittently honourable history of celebrated Latin clubs, which some of the older local salseros strutting their stuff here will remember back to Club Latino in the 1990s.

With its generous dancing space overlooked both by adjacent bars and an upstairs gallery, The Jam House certainly seemed a conducive choice of venue, busy and buzzing on the first of Salsa Buena’s live band shows.

This was thanks to the organisers’ not inconsiderable coup of booking celebrated Cuban outfit Sierra Maestra.

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Originally formed in 1976 by a group of Havana University engineering students, Sierra Maestra made their name as revivalists of classic 1920s and 30s-style son, centred on the old-school instrumentation of tres, guitar, trumpet, bongo, güiro and vocals, plus of course claves and other percussion. Over the years, and via successive personnel changes, the remaining original members have assumed the mantle of veteran traditionalists.

Younger recruits contribute new material within that tradition, and the band as a whole is credited with reintroducing son into the Cuban mainstream. The current cross-generational line-up delivered a compelling balance of deep-dyed musicianship and sparkling vitality, earthy sensuality and sophisticated polish. It was laced with some particularly tasty trumpet playing, languid and impassioned by turns, plus a string of virtuosic tres solos, fronted by raw-edged yet suavely-nuanced, richly-layered vocal work.

Rating: ****

SUE WILSON