THIS was one of a handful of UK warm-ups by the Mavericks frontman for the Cambridge Folk Festival this weekend, and what a treat its audience - which will be somewhat bigger than the one at the back of the City Hall - is in for.
Raul Malo is simply a magnificent singer, a crooner without the saccharine who can do full justice to Roy Orbison’s Blue Bayou as part of a set that is firmly rooted in his love of Latin music stemming from his Cuban-influenced upbringing.
When he was in the same venue last year, he was in a trio. This time it was the full monty, backed by a four piece band in which accordion player Michael Guerra and keyboard player Kullen Fuchs (also playing trumpet - at the same time) caught the ear.
Such a big sound can be difficult to manage in such an intimate environment, but there were no problems here, and the result was surely one of the most entertaining nights the Memorial Hall has witnessed this year.
Malo’s songs have a melodic immediacy. Unsurprisingly, Dance The Night Away was a crowd pleaser, but much of the material from the album Sinners & Saints wasn’t far behind.
He also pulled off a trick of stamping a rootsish authenticity on standards such as Ole Sole Mio, Guantanamera and Lonely Is A Man With Love (yes, the Englebert Humperdinck hit).
Dependable local support came from singer songwriter John Reilly and Vancouver-based keyboard player Lewis Nitikman, playing songs from a soon-to-be released album Zebulon and drumming up business for a December date as part of the Acoustic Angels in the main City Hall.
Fapy Lafertin Quintet
HE’S not and they’re not. A quintet that is.
Tonight the five are four. Sadly, a family bereavement means Fapy Lafertin cannot play. Yet there is enough talent on stage to deal with the missing 20 per cent.
Lollo Meier more than covers any shortfall with his virtuoso gypsy jazz guitar, perfectly accompanied by the rhythm strumming of Dave Kelbie. Andy Crowdy’s upright bass delivers a driving beat, the musical glue that holds everything together.
In between are the soaring violin melodies of Tcha Limberger, who draws his bow across the strings with wondrous fluidity.
It don’t mean a thing if you can’t make it swing and these are players happy to take a chance, tripping across the tuneful high-wire without a safety net. The music soars and swoops, prompting considerable foot tapping.
Overall, there is much homage to Django Reinhardt, whose remarkable abilities remain a benchmark for the genre.
Central to his legend was the intricate interplay with violinist Stephane Grappelli, which is explored and expanded upon by Meier and Limberger.
In fact, close your eyes and you could be in some smoky 1930s Parisian bar. Cocteau and Man Ray are huddled together at a candlelit table in the corner, while Lee Miller glides past in a slinky dress.
That became known as the Hot Club style and, even one member down, the group is positively molten, smattering the set with their own arpeggio-laden compositions.