Oh just listen to ‘Chan Chan’ kick in on CD one and they’ve got you in the palm of their hands, pure magic. Produced by Ry Cooder, from a concert in 1998 as the group made their American debut, even though they were in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. This is very much a moment in time as they never all played together again and sadly members like Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González and Company Segundo were soon to pass on. Double CD, 16 tracks, music just doesn’t get any better than this.
Ten years on from the world-wide explosion of interest in the Buena Vista Social Club, it is fascinating to revisit the the first concert that the collective played in the United States and at the prestigous Carnegie Hall in New York to boot. Fortunately World Circuit recorded it for posterity and it does not disappoint. Long-time Buena Vistas in this country will remember the atmosphere at the Jazz cafe gig in London, and the week long fesitval of Cuban music at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. A decade earlier it would have been unthinkable that a bunch of Cuban musicians from the 1950s and beyond could have become a world-wide phenomenon, let alone be allowed to play in the States given political differences pervasive at the time. The concert swept away any such considerations and the music contained within catches the Buena Vistas at their absolute peak with the extended collective in all their glory.
The double CD provides plenty of space for the expanded repertoire of the band to be showcased, and in uptempo numbers such as the classic ‘Mandinga’ and the instrumental ‘Siboney’ with refined piano playing from Ruben Gonzalez we hear them at their absolute zenith. Shifts in tempo abound on ‘Almendra’ while the campesino country style of ‘Orgullecida’ allows the duet between Compay Segundo and Omara Portuondo to shine through. This is a trip through the classic Cuban songbook with songs such as ‘Cuarto de Tula’ that Celina Gonzalez made famous, but here transformed into an eight minute Latin big band number with vocals shared by Ferrer, Pio Leyva and Puntillita. Mid-tempo burners such as ‘De camino a la vereda’ swing like crazy and cha cha cha’s of the calibre of ‘La enganadora’ oscillate between instrumental and vocal passages. Of course the hit numbers are featured and ‘Chan Chan’ is a particularly fine rendition while ‘Quizas Quizas’ conjurs up the magic that Nat King Cole once injected into the song. With a deluxe thirty page booklet, the whole phenomenon is beautifully chronicled with musicians and writers alike providing commentaries. An indispensable slice of timeless nostalgia.