Buena Vista Social Club At Carnegie Hall Review

Released 2008.  

BBC Review

A covetable reminder of a peerless musical phenomenon at its glorious peak.

Michael Quinn 2008

With sales of more than eight million copies of their eponymous 1997 debut, Buena Vista Social Club must be a strong contender for the most popular World Music act ever. Admirers of the crack Cuban collective will have encountered substantial parts of this recording before in Wim Wenders' acclaimed documentary profile of the group. Even so, this two-disc release of their only visit to New York is not to be missed.

Caught live at the city's legendary Carnegie Hall in July 1998, this truly historic concert marked the American debuts of the band, all of them at the time well into their 70s, 80s and 90s. A decade on, the impact of musicianship as considered, consummate and casually thrown off as this remains magical and mesmerising. This is the real thing, and how – music-making of a standard rarely achieved in any genre that communicates with a joyous, life-affirming vitality that is simply impossible to resist or refuse. It's a shot of pure musical adrenalin that hits the mark every time.

Produced by Ry Cooder, the Carnegie Hall concert thrillingly caught the Buena Vista Social Club at the very height of their powers, and at the very end of their colossal achievements. The band never played together again and within all too short a time, key contributors like Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González and Company Segundo had died.

But the legacy left behind remains vividly alive, as this 16-strong collection of the group’s most popular pieces amply demonstrates. Yet while tracks like Chan Chan, Orgullecida, Candela and Veinte Años retain the capacity to leap vibrantly out of the speakers, what continues to amaze and astonish in equal measure is the sheer technical virtuosity of the playing, the impeccably attuned sense of ensemble, and, above all, the unfettered and infectious joy in making music.

We may never see or hear the likes of Buena Vista Social Club again, but what relatively little we have on disc will endure and abide. This startlingly good, beautifully recorded one-off provides a covetable reminder of a peerless musical phenomenon at its glorious peak.

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