(World Circuit/Nonesuch 79532-2)
In case you somehow hadn’t noticed, there’s something of a craze surrounding Cuban music these days, especially resurrected vintage Cuban jazz. Touched off by the first Buena Vista Social Club record two years ago (which has since sold over 100,000 copies in Canada alone) the interest in formerly obscure and impoverished, aging Cuban Jazz giants like Ruben Gonzalez and Ibrahim Ferrer continues to grow. With this second disc, a documentary by Wim Wenders, and the performers themselves set to make their way through Europe and North America this summer, you can expect to hear a lot more about Cuban Jazz in the coming months.
If you liked the first Buena Vista Social Club record, as I did, than you’re not likely to mind. In fact, if you’re like me than you’re eager not only to see the film but to pick up this new CD. I’ll have to wait to see the movie but I’ve been listening to the CD regularly for the last couple of days, and enjoying it thoroughly.
As you’ve probably guessed, the focus this time out is on 72 year old Bolero singer Ibrahim Ferrer, although most of the performers from the original recording return, most notably, Ry Cooder (as guitarist and producer), and Cuba’s answer to Thelonious Monk, pianist Ruben Gonzalez (who has is own solo album as well, Introducing Ruben Gonzalez — World Circuit/Nonesuch 79477-2). In fact, this time out there are a slew of additional musicians as well, including sizeable string, brass, and vocal sections.
Like the first record this one is comprised of a mixture of Cuban Jazz styles including Son, Bolero, Guajira and Cancion. However, the bigger band and some more sophisticated arrangements make for a lush, more polished, jazz orchestra kind of sound, making the original Buena Vista Social Club sound a little more raw and energetic by comparison. Also, the tone on this record is a little more laid back, Ferrer gently crooning his way through several lovely ballads. While there is an occasional hint of schmaltz, highlighted by sporadically sappy string parts, these tunes ring true, displaying an honesty and authenticity which is always compelling. The faster tunes don’t disappoint either, Ferrer’s advancing years seemingly having no effect on his ability to swing. In addition to the ballads there are plenty of danceable numbers as well. These guys may be old, but they still have serious chops!
Not surprisingly this is great summer music, the timing of the release nicely coinciding with a Toronto heat wave which is making June feel like August. On a hazy humid evening you can throw this CD on, close your eyes and easily imagine yourself in Havana night club circa 1958, pulling nonchalantly on a mighty cigar. A big help in creating this illusion is the gorgeous sound. Recorded in the same studio and with the same crew as the first Buena Vista Social Club, the results are just as impressive. Incredibly open and airy the soundstage on this recording is as deep as they come, and utterly convincing. There may have been some overdubs but you’d never suspect it, the recording sounding as live and spontaneous as it gets. Craze or no craze, musically and sonically, this one’s a keeper.