A wry view of life for the world-weary

Cuban Hoe-down


Lost and Found – Buena Vista Social Club

The original eponymous album released by the Buena Vistas in 1997 was an unanticipated global phenomenon, putting their distinctive, mesmerising blend of Cuban rhythms and jazz influences firmly on the list of all-time great albums.

Alas, time marches on and a number of the principal members of this rather loose collective – Ibrahim Ferrer, Compay Segundo, Ruben Gonzalez, Orlando Lopez and Miguel Diaz, to name just five – have shuffled off this mortal coil to samba and salsa on some lucky cloud. The release of this album coincides with the opening of the final UK tour of two of the surviving stalwarts, Omara Portuondo and Eliades Ochoa. I’m sure the timing is purely coincidental!

What we have here is an album made up of previously unreleased Buena Vista tracks and live recordings. Generally a description such as this is accompanied by the grating sound of the bottom of a barrel being scraped. But the array of talents within the group and the variety of styles were such that there was inevitably stuff that didn’t quite make the cut first time round. That doesn’t mean that what we have here is sub-standard fare. Whilst we may cavil at the timing of the release – why now and not at a time nearer the release of the original? – this is a collection that has been lovingly compiled and respectful of the group’s reputation and legacy. It is unlikely, however, to win over a new audience like the original did.

For me the stand-out track is Black Chicken 37. It starts off with hypnotic improvised Cuban jazz featuring bass and percussion, then moving into solos on violin and saxophone. A close second is the sultry Tiene Sabor with its heady mix of sexy female backing vocals and a red-hot violin. Ochoa’s solo track, the bolero Pedacito de Papel, is haunting and Ruben Gonzalez, probably the star of the original album, shows off his talents with a bout of informal scat singing on the closing track. His last recorded solo, on Bodas de Oro, is reason enough to own the album.

There are three live recordings, all taken from Ibrahim Ferrer’s 2000 tour and whilst he is performing with a large band and the audience reaction can be a distraction from the reverential hushed-toned feeling of the rest of the album, they are not out of place.

Perhaps it is because I am familiar with the original album and the style of music – it cannot fail to put you in a good mood but there is a lot of virtuosity and musicality in there if you want to listen closely – but I didn’t think this collection had the same kind of impact. What I am looking forward to is putting the two albums together on shuffle on my MP3 player on a car journey – guaranteed to beat the motorway blues – and see if I can spot the difference.


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