A family-led operation, the Machito Orchestra was established in 1939 and continues to attract some of the best-known musicians in Latin jazz. The New York-based group comes to town this week in a celebratory mood. The show pays homage to three departed legends of the genre: the Machito Orchestra's founder and conductor, Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo (Machito), and the great percussion icon of the genre, Tito Puente.
The searing sounds from the Knight Concert Hall stage will also form an unstated tribute to Mario Bauza, Machito's brother-in-law and the ensemble's original music director. From 1941 to 1976, Bauza wisely insisted that Machito hire jazz arrangers for tunes such as "Blen, Blen, Blen" and "Déjame Explicar." Current music director and bandleader Mario Grillo, Machito's son, continues the orchestra's jazz traditions and has developed a sound that is as effortless as it is intricate.
The supporting cast, too, is star-studded. Among the players in the night's lineup are trumpeters Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros and Arturo Sandoval, timbalero Orestes Vilato, flutists Nestor Torres and Dave Valentin, percussionist Sammy Figueroa, and singer Albita.
The Machito Orchestra
The Machito Orchestra and special guests: Friday, January 16. The Knight Concert Hall at the Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $25 to $125. 305-848-6722, arshtcenter.org
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The night won't be all high art, though. Vocal numbers will likely showcase, for example, the fondness that many Latin lyricists hold for tropical root vegetables. (Only the most innocent of souls, or perhaps a stray botanist in the audience, could miss the double-entendres.) However, it's well not to be overly distracted by any coy sexual references or the star-shine of the Miami-based, heavy-hitting Latin jazz guests. Let's remember this orchestra traces a direct lineage to Machito and His Afro-Cubans, one of the first ensembles anywhere to fuse Afro-Cuban rhythms with jazz improvisation. And that's what this party is really all about.