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Afro Cuban Quarantine

07-01-2020 | By Victor Chavira | Issue 110

One of the few benefits of quarantine has been an abundance of time for listening to music. As resident Latin music specialist, I offer the following recommendations for your enjoyment.

Buenos Hermanos was Ibrahim Ferrer's 2003 follow up to Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer released in 1999. Both recordings are from World Circuit. Although Ibrahim left us in 2005, this remix was supervised by Ry Cooder, and contains additional songs not included with the original CD release. My comments are restricted to MQA version accessible to me through Tidal. The recording is also available on double LP. Of the motherload of talent brought to the music loving world's attention by the phenomena that was the Buena Vista Social Club, the velvety sound of Ibrahim Ferrer's voice is arguably the crown jewel. I count myself among the lucky few who experienced Mr. Ferrer's gift in concert. My 44.1kHz/16-bit CD rip of the album is quite enjoyable, but sounds dynamically compressed and veiled. By comparison, the 48kHz/24-bit data stream from Tidal is up sampled to 96kHz and unfolded by MQA (blue dot). This version emerges from the space before me completely disassociated from the speakers. The ear / brain is treated to an unambiguous soundstage with precise images and nuances of individual voices in harmony. All in all, this is not a heavy-handed remix, but rather a technological refresh with bonus of 4 additional songs from the sessions.

Also, from World Circuit is a new album by Cuban sonero Guillermo Portabales (1911-1970). Who, you might ask, is Guillermo Portabales? Check the songwriter credits for "El Carretero" from your version of Buena Vista Social Club. Portabales was underappreciated in his time but very influential in the lives of the musicians that formed Buena Vista Social Club. This album is a collection of sixteen songs originally compiled by World Circuit for a 1996 CD. The album is also available on double LP. Again, my comments are restricted to the MQA version accessible to me through Tidal. The music on this release is pure Cuban son—voices, guitar, bass, and percussion. Only two songs run longer than three minutes. Portabales' voice is distinctive, as if developed over years in the Cuban countryside to convene dancers rather than dimly lit romantic clubs of the city. The guitar solos on "Nostalgia Guajira" and "Guateque Campesino" are incendiary.

Pianist/composer/producer Roberto Fonseca was born in 1975 to a musical family in Havana, and occupied the piano chair for Buena Vista Social Club since 2001. ABUC is his 2016 genre hopping album on Impulse! with guest appearances by BVSC alumni. Once more, my comments are limited to the MQA version streamed from Tidal. The album is book-ended by Ray Bryant's "Cubano Chant." The first version is an arrangement for big band, while the closing track is a one minute nineteen second epilogue for solo piano. In between are songs that evoke classic mambo, Latin jazz, funk, and pop, as if Snarky Puppy had transplanted to Cuba. The song "Contradanza Del Espiritu" is a beautifully melodic fanfare that grows to a cinematic climax. Fonseca's mother, Mercedes Cortés Alfaro, shares her enchanting voice to the lovely bolero "Despues." Even if you do not understand Spanish, the language of great music is universal.

If quarantine has you stuck at home, I am  confident the albums listed above will have you feeling more alive.