Ay, Candela


[Escondida Music, www.escondidamusic.com]

Having visited Cuba for the first time only a mere two months ago, the memory that I'm overpowered with is the music. Sure, the warmth of the ocean, the inviting breezes and the humanity of the Cuban people will guarantee a return visit. However, it was Cuban music that captivated me and drew me in. No, I don't speak Spanish, so I've no idea what's being said in the music, but sometimes the emotions just come clearly through without a need for an interpreter. Inaugurating Escondida Music's Cuban Essentials series are these two CDs from two of the most legendary musicians from the island of great cigars and fine rum.

Long forgotten by the outside world, Ibrahim Ferrer's vocals were once again brought to the spotlight through Wim Wender's documentary "Buena Vista Social Club". "Ay, Candela" represents the finest Ibrahim Ferrer had to offer. Culled from various sessions during the 70's and 80's and fully re-mastered, the music now truly comes alive. His voice was once described as "voz de vieja", which translates as "old lady's voice". There is so much life in this music and so much joy that one can't help but get up and dance. The heavy-handed Afro percussion is simply wild, while the horn section is consistently vibrant throughout all fourteen tracks. Who knows, maybe Ferrer is talking about gravely serious matters in the course of these songs, but their delivery [the call-and-response choruses] is so lively and so life enriching that the message gets shoved on the back-burner. No matter whether the songs here are mid-tempo or high-tempo, the high spirits of Ibrahim and the orchestra come through in every note. One of the highlights is a touching ballad "Una Fuerza Inmensa", where Ferrer gets into a crooner mode. The only drawback of this release is a lack of some sort of detailed musician listings on each of the tracks. Otherwise, "Ay, Candela" sees Ferrer at his finest hour.

Perhaps one of Cuba's greatest pianists, Ruben Gonzalez never enjoyed the popularity he deserved. While "Mementos" is a collection of some of his best tracks between 50's and 70's, much of this music has stood the test of time. Many will simply frown at particular pieces and compare some to lounge music. I tend to disagree. This is in fact the music of Cuba. The cha cha, bolero and son all come together nicely in this package. Brass section is present on some pieces, while others are simply piano/bass/drum trios. No matter what path Ruben chooses, at the top of his priorities is a great love for melody. Not once does he abandon it in favour of cacophony. Easy to listen to but never dull, this is truly beautiful music made on an island full of warmth and affection. Though both musicians have passed on, their music is here, standing strong; resisting all tests of time.

- Tom Sekowski

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