David Murray Cuban Ensemble ‘Plays Nat King Cole En Español’ (Emarcy/Universal) 4/5

This is one of the year’s unexpected projects and likely to be one of the most enjoyable listens into the bargain. Nat King Cole recorded some of his most loved music when he decided to devote two albums to the Latin American songbook and sing for the first time in Spanish. His unique and quirky phrasing enchanted Cubans in particular, even though Cole’s understanding and mastery of Spanish was limited, and saxophonist David Murray has had the considerable foresight to re-investigate this repertoire. The original idea for Cole to record in Spanish was inspired by a conversation with Cole’s friend and manager Carlos Gastel. Fast forward some fifty years and David Murray has enlisted some of Latin America’s finest musicians and recorded them in Buenos Aires with further strings being added in Portugal. The result is an irresistible take on some of the old chestnuts. Take the famous ‘Quizas, quizas, quizas’ which modern day listeners may have heard Nat’s original version of on the soundtrack to Wong Kar Wai’s ‘In the mood for love’ film. In the new version, Argentine Nuevo tango singer Daniel Malingo takes over vocal duties with a raucous delivery that recalls a Spanish-speaking Tom Waits, or Paulo Conte. A leisurely mambo is devoted to the Cuban bass maestro appropriately titled ‘Cachaito’ on which Murray plays bass clarinet and tenor with lush strings while Murray plays a breathy tenor solo on the cha-cha-cha ‘Piel canela’. Possibly the strongest cut of all is the opener ‘El bodeguero’ which at almost nine and half minutes features fine soloing from Murray very much in the Ben Webster lineage and excellent ensemble playing. On this album Murray succeeds in really getting inside the old tunes and giving them his personalised imprint. Incisive and lengthy inner sleeve notes from jazz authority Gary Giddins place the session in a wider historical perspective.

Tim Stenhouse