Blowing doors

The jazzy Afro Cuban All Stars delight at Chico State

Juan De Marcos

Juan De Marcos

Photo By Tom Angel

Harlen Adams, Chico State May 1, 9 p.m. show

“Los cubanos están tocando!” the crowd shouted at one point in the show, in a vibrant call-and-response with the bandstand ("The Cubans are playing!"). I’ll say!

The Afro-Cuban All Stars, led by the sparkling Juan De Marcos, were playing (and singing) like the world-class musicians they are. From the first note of their first song, “Tanga,” which already had people dancing in the aisles, to the final huge chord of their encore, “Elube Chango,” the All Stars had their audience thoroughly enraptured.

“Tanga” burst into the Harlen Adams Theater like a fireworks display, matched in its musical color by the chromatic splashes of the bright-green congas, the brilliant blue of the maracas player’s suit and shirt and the red bongos. In “Tanga,” and throughout the night, the band moved expertly and thrillingly through volume changes: The exciting, high blast of the trumpets could quickly come down to the most sensuous, fascinating piano solo from the invaluable David Alfaro. The wicked solo of timbalero Antonio Portuondo at the end of “Tribute to [Chico] O’Farrill” still hung in the air as trombonist Antonio Leal walked to the front of the stage and delivered the most gorgeous, silky solo introduction to “El Carretero.”

Seventy-nine-year-old singer Ignacio “Masacote” Carrillo was surely one of the highlights of a high flying night. Sauntering on stage in his jaunty fire-engine-red cap, raspberry jacket and dapper cream-colored pants, Carrillo charmed the crowd from the second they laid eyes on him. His quirky, well-placed dance moves were almost too adorable! The other two singers, Luís Frank Árias and Pedrito Calvo, also each had their turn to shine. Some of the luckier women in the audience got to dance with the sexy 270-pound Frank. Everyone got to hear his beautiful voice. Calvo was absolutely dashing in his red suit with shiny black cowboy fringe, with a voice and performance to match.

No recap of this show would be complete without mentioning the phenomenal solo of conguero Adel González in the encore. His hands flew like hummingbirds’ wings from his center conga to the outside two and back. The spotlight was on him and his three green congas, and he gave the most brilliant performance I have ever seen by a conga player. I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

What a night!