HAVANA GOOD TIME IN LONDON

Anybody wanting to get into summer early should head for London's Jazz Cafe on Monday, when the Afro-Cuban All Stars bring their exuberant brand of big-band jazz to town. Latin-flavoured music has been in vogue before - trumpet great Dizzy Gillespie was an aficionado, while more recently Panama's Ruben Blades has cut a swathe through the mainstream - but there is nothing like the intensity and sheer enjoyment displayed by the four generations of the island's musicians who make up the All-Stars. The famously eclectic guitarist Ry Cooder, who appears on one track of their recently released World Circuit album A Toda Cuba Le Gusta (No 1 in the World Music chart), has labelled them "the greatest musicians on the planet today". But don't take his word for it. Teenage percussionists and more aged singers and brass players alike display a technical virtuosity that's mixed with genuine soul.

Among the players on a project designed to inject some new life into a tradition under threat from Americanisation is Ruben Gonzalez, a dazzling 77-year-old pianist whom Cooder has described as "like a cross between Thelonious Monk and Felix the Cat". He arrives in Europe later in the week in support of his debut solo effort, Introducing Ruben Gonzalez, which is released by World Circuit on 12 May. The album would be remarkable enough if made by a young buck, let alone somebody who is suffering from arthritis and no longer owns a piano.

Cooder (left) is himself a revered guitarist who has spent the past three decades performing psychedelic blues with Taj Mahal, jamming with the Rolling Stones, writing evocative soundtracks for such movies as Paris, Texas, and working as a kind of one-man musical archivist bringing to a (slightly) wider audience the work of often obscure artists. He gets his own show on Buena Vista Social Club, released by the same label next month. As well as the suddenly hyperactive Gonzalez, the stylishly restrained album features the locally renowned 89-year-old singer and guitar player Compay Segundo (far left). When a man with the CV of Cooder calls the sessions in a beat-up Havana studio "the greatest musical experience of my life", the world would do well to sit up and listen.

Juan De Marcos Afro-Cuban All-Stars, Jazz Cafe, Parkway, London N1 (0171- 916 6060) 5 May, 7pm

Roger Trapp

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