A life devoted to making music is rare enough. A life in which said musical career begins in childhood and then spans from Cuba to Canada and California and back to Canada again sounds like a relic of the 20th century, or a figment of some novelist’s creation. But that has been the geographical arc of Cuban-Canadian soñero Adonis Puentes’ career.
Born south of Havana in 1974, Puentes and fraternal twin Alexis grew up playing guitar and later performing in their father Valentín’s band. It was after touring through Canada with their father in the mid-1990s that the ambitious siblings relocated to British Columbia, where they started families and recorded a Juno-nominated album as the Puentes Brothers, 2001’s “Morumba Cubana.” In 2005 Puentes made his first solo album, “Vida,” with composing and producing assistance from Alexis (now best known as Juno- and Grammy Award-winning artist and Nelly Furtado collaborator Alex Cuba).
The following year Puentes started charting a more distinct path as a solo artist, moving to Los Angeles and connecting with the local salsa community as he honed his compositions, fusing Afro-Cubano rhythms with his lyrical celebrations of the heart. In 2011 he contributed lead vocals to DJ José Rizo’s ensemble Mongorama’s eponymously titled debut, which earned a Latin Grammy nomination.
More consequentially, during his LA sojourn Puentes befriended an arranger whose tasteful work for other artists he had long admired: Grammy-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra musical director Oscar Hernandez, who eventually played piano and arranged three tracks on Puentes’ sophomore album, 2013’s Juno-nominated “Sabor a Café.” It’s a richly melodic set of lighthearted numbers like “Tumbando Mangos” and a harmonious duet with Alex Cuba, “Se Desata.”
Puentes’ new album, “Dicen,” produced by “maestro” Hernandez, continues in that vein: a sophisticated mix of elegant balladry and rumbas as sweet as they are sensual, rooted in Cuban son. Hernandez’s ebullient keyboard and horn charts undergird Puentes’ velvety crooning, zestily punctuating his romantic pleas without challenging him. As performed by his acoustic Voice of Cuba Orchestra (guitar, tres, bass, percussion, piano and trumpet), the music makes for lively performances; Puentes routinely advises audiences to bring their dancing shoes. That should make for some interesting aisle action at Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium Saturday night.
Adonis Puentes & the Voice of Cuba Orchestra perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 20, in Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium, 1200 E. California Blvd., Pasadena; $42, $37, $32 ($10 youth). Info: (626) 395-4652. adonispuentes.ca, Caltech.edu