'..why haven't I heard anything so natural, inspired or drop dead gorgeous in ages?...
Jon Lusk 2004
Sometimes ideas are so blindingly obvious that, for a long time, nobody sees them. The pairing of a veteran Cuban pianist with one of the rising stars of flamenco on a selection of Cuban and other Latin American standards seems to be a case in point. According to the sleevenotes, the project was "conceived as an experiment to demonstrate that underneath the diversity of these different styles of music lay common elements". You don't need a degree in musicology to figure that one out, so why haven't I heard anything so natural, inspired or drop dead gorgeous in ages? Not all experiments work, but this one's an unmitigated success.
Thirty six-year-old Diego Jimenez Salazar was nicknamed 'El Cigala' ('Norway lobster') by the late great Camarón de la Isla, ('shrimp of the island'). The familial links hinted at in their comically crustaceous appellations let's you know that he is flamenco royalty, but if that isn't enough, just listen to his extraordinary sobbing voice. Though, at 83, Bebo Valdez is old enough to be Cigala's grandfather, his pensive piano is the perfect foil for the fiery young singer. Also, as the father of Chucho Valdez (founder of Afro-Cuban jazz pioneers Irakere) he's from an equally exalted musical dynasty.
They're joined by a small crew of musical extras who deftly colour in these virtuoso all-acoustic sketches without ever intruding. So much so that on first listen, you hardly notice when they're not thereon "Vete De Mí", the only song with just piano and voice. The handful of guest soloists are equally restrained. Most notably, El Niño Josele's brief sparkle of guitar on "Corazón Loco" is dropped in with casual brilliance, and the spoken-word interlude by Caetano Veloso on the becalmed bossa nova of "Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar" is perfectly judged. And if you thought songs like "Veinte Anõs" and "Lágrimas Negras" had been done to death, these Iberian-flavoured takes on such well-worn classics will make you think again. Some might say Bebo's loosely wandering solo on "La Bien Pagá" loses the plot a little. Others would say that's the whole point - this is music to get absolutely lost in.
The core of the album was recorded in the space of a few days, which is the way most great records seem to be made. If it hadn't already been a massive hit in both Latin America and Spain in 2003, this would have to be a strong contender for best album of 2004. Buy it anyway.