Although not quite as memorable as its predecessor, this is still one of the finest...
Jack Smith 2004-03-25
Omara Portuondo made her solo debut for World Circuit in 2000, three years after her show-stealing cameo with Compay Segundo singing 'Veinte Años' on the block-busting Buena Vista Social Club album.
Her solo career actually dates back to 1959 and she's done numerous records, but only World Circuit have given The 'Buena Vista sista' the red carpet treatment and lush settings she really deserves.
Buena Vista Social Club presents Omara Portuondo found her in the very capable hands of musical director Demetrio Muñiz and was a tough act to follow. This time around, World Circuit founder and producer Nick Gold has chosen to work with Muñiz again as well as Brazilian producer Alê Siquiera, known for his work with Carlinhos Brown and Caetano Veloso. Once more, the songs are mostly vintage pieces from the Great Cuban Songbook.
The closing 'Casa Calor' is a strangely stirring retro-futurist offering by Brown, which sounds almost like it might have fallen off the track-listing from last year's wonderful joint album by Ry Cooder and Manuel Galbán. The former Los Zafiros guitarist maintains an uncharacteristically discreet presence on rhythm guitar throughout much of 'Flor de Amor', even though both 'Hermosa Habana' and 'He venido a decirte' (one of Omara's finest vocals) were originally performed by Los Zafiros.
It's the guitars and their relations that really shine, most notably in the solo by Brazilian player Swami Jr. on the upbeat 'Mueve la cintura mulato'. There's a touch of laoud from Barbaríto Torres, and plenty of subtle licks from Irakere's electric guitarists Carlos Emilio and Jorge Chicoy.
Lastly, tres player Papi Oviedo, (who's been an entertaining live sidekick for the singer in recent years) backs her alone, and very tastefully, on 'Amorosa Guajira'. It's a sharp contrast with the sweeping strings and cooing backing vocals that feature in most of the other lush arrangements, along with plenty of demurely noodling clarinet by Javier Zalba.
Though she's capable of Shirley Bassey-style belters, the focus is on the more intimate aspect of Omara's work, with danzones, boleros, and guajiras dominating the fourteen tracks.
Maybe it's the lack of duets, the absence of the late great Rubén González, the material or its sequencing, but somehow, gorgeous as it is, 'Flor de Amor' isn't quite as memorable as its predecessor. That said, this is still one of the finest Cuban albums you'll hear this year.