PBS’ cultural arts series Great Performances has for years brought to audiences what are in fact some of the greatest performances from one arts medium to another. From jazz to opera to even hip-hop and R&B and more, Great Performances has exposed audiences to worlds that they otherwise might never have experienced. This past December, the long-running series continued to live up to that positive reputation with the presentation of the Latin tinged concert Havana Time Machine. This roughly 50-minute program follows famed Grammy Award-winning Cuban musician Raul Malo as he visits his home nation and puts on a star studded concert for local residents. The journey that precedes the concert is itself one key part of what makes this program such a joy to experience. That does not mean that the concert itself is not important. Quite the opposite actually. It is very important, and will be discussed later. For all of the good that this program gives audiences in its new home release, it is not without at least one negative. That one negative is the lack of any program guide other than the one on the disc. This may seem minor on the surface, but in the bigger picture of the presentation, is key in its own way, and in turn will be discussed later, too. Even with that one negative to note, it is not enough to make the program unwatchable. It would have been nice to have had that one element, but even without it, the concert and the pre-concert tour together are enough to make this program worth the watch and then some.
Havana Time Machine is a successful new concert recording from PBS’ hit cultural arts series Great Performances. Originally released on DVD December 12, 2017, this recording hits almost all the right notes in its home presentation. That statement is supported in part through the tour of Havana hosted by Grammy Award-winning Cuban musician Raul Malo. the tour precedes the main feature concert that makes main body of the presentation. During his tour, audiences get to see firsthand some of the buildings and streets of Havana while also getting some mini performances from a small handful of artists including Eliades Ochoa (Buena Vista Social Club), Ivette Cepeda and Sweet Lizzy Project. Cepeda’s intimate acoustic performance of ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps’ alongside Ochoa is so moving and enthralling. Malo’s discussion with Sweet Lizzy Project about getting its music distributed without major retailers couples with its performance to give audiences even more enjoyment. The introduction of Cuba’s art institute and his performance of ‘Besame Mucho’ with some of the institute’s students is another highlight of the program’s pre-concert tour. It is just one more of the highlights of the pre-concert tour that when joined with the other features, makes for plenty of enjoyment in whole as a warm-up for the big show. Speaking of the big show, it is another of the recording’s key elements. However, there is one part of the concert that cannot be ignored that is problematic. That one issue is its lack of a program guide outside of the guide presented on disc.
The lack of a physical program guide may not seem overly important on the surface to the whole of Havana Time Machine. A close examination however, shows it plays its own important part to the concert’s overall presentation. The addition of a physical program guide, on one level, allows audiences to follow along with the concert and in turn know which song (and artist) is which. That is the most basic level of its importance. On another level, having artist and song titles could be that proverbial door that opens audiences to artists and music about which they otherwise would not have known. Having those names and song titles as reference points, audiences unfamiliar with either would be able to start their searches for more music and information. To that end, the lack of a physical program guide does detract from the recording’s presentation to a point. Luckily though, that impact is not so much that it makes the program unwatchable. The program’s primary concert feature couples with the pre-show tour to make the recording in whole well worth the watch.
The concert feature is enjoyable in part because of its venue. Rather than being hosted at a standard arena or other modern venue, it is instead held at a venue that once was run by a beer company. While Malo notes that the jungle reclaimed the venue in the century since the location was abandoned by that company, it is clear that it has been cared for and turned into quite the unique concert venue. The intimate setting makes the concert feel that much looser in its energy from one act to the next. Those varied acts are another part of what makes the concert feature so enjoyably. Malo himself takes part in the performance, but is just one of the acts tapped for the show. Roberto Fonseca performs at the concert along with Ochoa and Sweet Lizzy Project to round out the show that is capped off with a full-on star-studded performance of ‘Guantanamera.’ The finale leaves audiences feeling fulfilled, but still wanting for more in the best way possible. Keeping that in mind, hopefully PBS and Public Media Distribution will release the full concert sooner rather than later, as there’s no doubt that performance (and the rest featured here) would easily couple with any others left out for an even more enjoyable show. Even with the material that is here in mind, it couples with the pre-show tour of Havana and its related performances for a recording that hits nearly every right note with Latin music fans.
Great Performances: Havana Time Machine is a program that definitely lives up to the “Great Performances.” It is a presentation that time and again will hit almost all of the right notes with Latin music fans as is evidenced in part through the recording’s pre-show tour of Hanava. The tour takes viewers through the streets and even countryside of Havana and comes complete with a handful of mini-performances. The lack of a physical program guide does detract from the concert’s viewing experience, but not so much that it makes the program unwatchable. It just would have been nice to have had one instead of relying on the on-disc program. The main concert feature included in the recording rounds out its most important elements, and is certain to entertain audiences just as much as the pre-show tour. Keeping all of this in mind, Great Performances: Havana Time Machine hits almost all of the right notes, making the program in whole a presentation that any Latin music fan will appreciate. It is available now and can be ordered direct via PBS’ online store. More information on this and other episodes of Great Performances is available online now at:
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