Street festival fired by Latin supertalent

Adalberto Bravo claims he has no career highlights to reflect on. That's because his time is now. "I am at my peak. I can compose original music. I can arrange what I write. I can project my feelings, emotions and play the way I want," says the 34-year-old local Latin supertalent.

Although Bravo's demeanor is generally humble and soft-spoken, there is an obvious rise in intensity as he describes his passion for music and its traditions that span every genre and culture. An equal-opportunity composer, multi-instrumentalist, soloist and bandleader, Bravo deftly blends the most unlikely elements together: jazz, classical, flamenco, Latin root music and pop. His exotic blends have made Bravo's big band, the nearly two-decades-old Adalberto Bravo y su Orquesta Identidad, one of the busiest in Central Florida -- not too busy, though, to play the SalsaRengue festival at Church Street Station this weekend, along with another local Latin highlight, Vibración.

The Hispanic street party will celebrate ethnic music, cuisine and dance, with three sets by Bravo's 14-piece monster -- which includes two of his brothers -- each offering a festive opportunity to sample the group's upbeat fare.

Perhaps the driving theme of Bravo's compositions is marked by his love for the music of his ancestors, a feeling that was nurtured practically from birth. The eldest of three sons born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to parents of Puerto Rican origin, Bravo grew up infused in his family's root music. Adalberto Bravo Sr. himself had mastered the range of minor Latin percussion and made the sounds of his homeland his son's lullabies. "My father would put us to sleep every night to salsa and merengue," smiles Bravo, reminiscing.

As a youth, Bravo moved around, living for a brief time in Puerto Rico and in Venezuela, where he learned to play his now-beloved styles and instruments. Bravo's musical journey took another turn when his family moved to the melting pot of Florida, first to Miami and then to Orlando. Once here, he finished high school and eventually went on to master classical guitar, piano, voice, arranging, composing and directing at the University of Central Florida.

All of Bravo's influences and life experiences culminate on "Te Quiero," his 10-track debut CD, set to be released in late March. It offers five salsas, three merengues, a ballad and a Latin jazz tune -- all performed by Bravo's able orchestra. On several cuts, Bravo throws in a twist -- a ripple of classical piano scales, a lick of Spanish classical or 12-string acoustic guitar. The musician says that this may not seem so revolutionary now, but back when he began using guitar in salsa no one was doing it.

In listening to the CD, there's no incongruity in the blend of elements. That may be because Bravo primarily works in a style similar to "salsa romantica," which is marked by balladlike intros and leaves plenty of room for his classical innovations to roam. But he still manages to preserve salsa's "get up and dance" swing, making the form a favorite at parties of any kind.

Beyond the band, Bravo is exploring a solo career; guitar in hand, he's in demand all over the Southeast, drawing listeners to his flawless acoustic-guitar technique (he teaches private lessons) that travels through flamenco, jazz, pop, classical standards and originals. He's planning a solo release next year.

But band or no band, Bravo says, "I love all music and give all 100 percent."

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