Author:Varela, Jesse
Position:TT: From the Bay Area.

I HAD SUCH A GOOD TIME MY HEAD STILL HURTS!: This year my compañera and I welcomed in 1999 at a party featuring Cuban diva Albita, held at the Hyatt Regency near the Embarcadero in the City. The presentation included flamenco-jazzers Strunz & Farah, along with three floors of comedy, swing, disco, and salsa.

People were ready. With a spacious dance floor, the comfortably packed crowd grooved to the sounds of Strunz & Farah, who were in top form. Rounded out by bass and drums, they cranked out spirited energetic pieces. Since hearing him with the Latin fusion band Caldera in the '70s, Jorge Strunz has impressed me. On stage he sat relaxed with his legs crossed with guitar on top ripping out riveting nylon string riffs with ease.

Ardeshir Farah is a strong rhythm accompanist and a delightful player with a poetic melodicism. The beats are rooted in the Nuevo Flamenco styles of Paco De Lucia but with the pop sensibility of the Gypsy Kings. Formed in 1980, Strunz & Farah's first two albums on Milestone Records (Fronteras and Guittaras) set in motion a flamenco jazz and traverses both smooth jazz radio stations and world music charts. Given the Afro-Latin rhythmic foundation of the band a good bass player is needed and Eliseo Borrero made them swing with salsa smoothness. I had heard a lot about Eliseo, who has a great self-produced CD -Amanecer Caribeño- on Elibor Records, and found him a seasoned pro who plays with clear tone and a firm tumbao. Overall the duo played favorites but drew from their latest release, Wild Muse, on Selva Records.

Running into a family of friends, we found a place to settle in and got into the party. At around 11 p.m. Albita took the stage with her radiant platinum hair shining over a black velour suit with lace. With her ace ensemble, she dug in and tore into the crowd with Que Manera De Quererte. A seasoned performer, Albita's secret as a performer is her ability to involve her audience with an insatiable charisma and sugarcoated Cuban sensuality. Taunting them, she paces the stage like Mick Jagger crooning to those on the edge of the platform. As the heat turned up she pulled a couple of dancing partners up from the audience. But it was nothing to the routines she had worked up with her conguero. The material came largely from her previous three releases but it was classics like Almendra and a new version she's worked up of El Manisero that got the conga-line going and brought in the New Year. "Ya se fue el año...

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