Timeless Elegance

Omara Portuondo - Gracias
Omara Portuondo

Gracias (World Village, 2008)

All it takes is a single vocal line by Ms. Omara Portuondo and it’s clear that you are helpless. Whether she’s seducing you, teasing you or rebuffing you on her latest CD, you are bound to do her bidding. Finding international fame with the Buena Vista Social Club and encouraging more fans with her two solo albums, this Cuban songstress who has lured, beguiled and enchanted listeners for 60 years gives us another chance to fall love with her vocal mastery and timeless elegance on her latest offering entitled Gracias. Choosing from a repertoire of favorites and songs she’s always wanted to sing, Ms. Portuondo makes Gracias an elegant invitation to a whole new set of fans.

Opening with the inexpressibly lovely “Yo Vi,” Ms. Portuondo sweeps us into the very best of the Cuban jazz sound. Laced with guitar, double bass, piano and the lightest touch of bongo and tabla, “Yo Vi” soars with wings of sweeping strings. Gracias just gets better and better with plumy “Felicidad” and the sultry “O Que Será” with additional vocals by Chico Buarque. Expertly arranged, the music on Gracias is more than a framework on which to hang Ms. Portuondo’s masterful vocals.

 

Playing on the interaction between the music and vocals, Gracias sparkles with guest appearances by bassists Avishai Cohen and Richard Bona, percussionist Trilok Gurtu and famed pianist Chucho Valdés. With an intimate feel, tracks like “Vuelva Pena” and “Cuenta Para Un Niño” are shaded by Ms. Portuondo’s signature phrasing and depth of passion. The flirty Ámane Como Soy” with Pablo Milanés and the lushly stringed “Tú Me Desengaño” are shot through with the powerful current of vitality that is Omara Portuondo.

My favorites have to be the sassy Brazilian title track “ Gracias” with vocalist Jorge Drexler, Swami Jr on the seven-string guitar, Jorge Chicoy on electric guitar and Andrés Coayo on congas and pandero and the rich Caribbean sound of “Drume Negrita” with Richard Bona’s vocals, double bass and percussion by Julio Guerra and batas by Andrés Coayo.

Kudos go to producers Alê Siqueira and Swami Jr., the folks at Estudio Abdala in Havana and to the person whose idea it was to put all those great photos of Omara Portuondo in the booklet. Gracias is sheer delight and thank you, Ms. Portuondo.

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