The impassioned music of this Bay-area Afro-Cuban combo provides a serious challenge to New York’s hegemony on the salsa scene. With their somewhat folkloric stylistic diversity Conjunto Cespedes paint a significantly more inclusive picture of Cuban music than the reigning stars in New York, many of whom aren’t even Cuban. On a pair of excellent albums for Green Linnet, including the recent Vivito y Coleando, this large ensemble freely interprets and updates Cuba’s myriad musical flavors. The new album opens with a blazing version of the Celina Gonzalez vehicle “Que Viva Chango.” Also done memorably by Celia Cruz, this number is perhaps the best-known Santeria song, and Gladys “Bobi” Cespedes sings it with considerable verve and plenty of soul. Rumbas, sambas, ballads, songos, sons: Conjunto Cespedes perform them all, whether accented with fiery jazz inflections or folkie simplicity. Both albums are peppered with salutes to various orishas, the deities of the Catholic-Yoruban-fused religion; in addition to performing classic material by the likes of Beny More and Elio Reve, the group has also built a substantial, satisfying original repertoire. Unusual instrumentation–a multitude of percussion, horns, acoustic guitar, and violin–allows them to traverse this diverse territory with unswerving confidence. Conjunto Cespedes perform as part of the Viva! Chicago Festival, the city’s annual free Latin music festival. Saturday, 6:25 PM, Petrillo Music Shell, Grant Park, Columbus and Jackson; 744-3370.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Irene Young.