Ibrahim Ferrer – Ay, Candela (Escondida ESC 6513-2, 2005)
Ruben Gonzalez – Momentos (Escondida ESC 6514-2, 2005)
Omara Portuondo – Sentimiento (Escondida ESC 6516-2, 2005)
Compay Segundo – El Compadre Again (Escondida ESC 6515-2, 2005)
My own passion for Cuban music predates the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon, though what BVSC did to raise the profile of classic Cuban sounds was (and is) remarkable. I mention this because the artists covered in the first four installments of Escondida’s new Cuban Essentials series-Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, Omara Portuondo and Compay Segundo -all enjoyed late-in-life career resurgences thanks to their Buena Vista participation. So since these folks need no introduction to Cuban music devotees, let me simply state that the material collected on these discs (mainly well-aged tunes from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s) is exceptional.
Ferrer’s is the standout, by turns a rousing and heartfelt example of his vibrant singing. Portuondo’s is full of her trademark strong-and-fragile vocals, Segundo’s showcases his excellence as an ageless country troubadour (including the great “Chan Chan,” naturally) and the González album places his amazingly agile piano playing in both traditional and jazzier settings.
With González, Segundo and Ferrer now deceased (Ferrer only recently so), these initial entries in the soon-to-be 10 volume series take on a bittersweet quality that reinforces the depth and breadth of the music all the more. Sure, you can take the cynical stance (as I often do) and say that vintage Cuban music is already saturating the market to the point of overkill. If so, think of these four (and presumably what is to come) as a way of cutting through the crap and getting your hands on the good stuff.