salsaThere’s a long tradition of light orchestral music in Germany – German orchestras contributed much of the best test transmission music for the BBC television “test card” during the 1960s and 1970s – so it’s perhaps not surprising to find a collaboration between German and Cuban musicians such as this one. The Klazz Brothers are pianist Tobias Forster and bass player Kilian Forster, German musicians who became enthusiastic about Cuban music while on a trip to Havana. They then set about making some orchestral arrangements of classical music in Cuban style, releasing Classics Meets Cuba in 2002 – initially just in Germany, but then more broadly two years later. A sequel, Symphonic Salsa, followed in 2006, featuring the brothers alongside some Cuban studio musicians called Cuba Percussion and the Munich Radio Orchestra conducted by Roger Epple.

Sounds cheesy? It is (and that’s part of the appeal) except that the arrangements (by Tobias Forster and Sverre Indris Joner) are intricate and beautifully judged. I’m less interested when they occasionally play it straight, just adding a light Latin beat to the classical melody. But in most cases they assimilate the various elements in a much more creative way. Cuban Sugar – which I heard at the weekend accompanying a dance piece at the National Youth Ballet performance at the Bloomsbury Theatre – deconstructs Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker. It begins with a staggered version of the pizzicato accompaniment from the original. Then the zither comes in, establishing the Latin cross rhythms. And then, on piano rather than celeste, comes the main theme, slithering down the scale in lazy triplets against the rest of the band. Salsa is all about the coming together of cross rhythms, and these arrangements exploit that to the full, while adding the combination of seemingly incongruous styles to the mix as well. Other orchestras are now taking up the arrangements – see this excellent YouTube live performance by Norway’s Hovedøen Social Club, which seems to me to be pretty much as good as the original.