Lagrimas Negras (Calle 54/Bluebird), by 80-something Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes and 30-something Roma flamenco vocalist Diego El Cigala, is not strictly jazz or Cuban or flamenco. It is simply a stroke of genius that defies category.
The songs are well-known boleros (ballads) from various parts of the Spanish-speaking world. Valdes shines with a classic slow-burning Cuban piano dexterity, a sound he helped define before he left Cuba in the '50s (think Buena Vista Social Club). Cigala's voice is cloaked in a wail that is part Moorish, part Indian, part Iberian and unmistakably flamenco. The instrumentation is sparse: piano, voice, bass and the flamenco cajon (percussive box that is played like a drum). On the title cut, the sound is fleshed out with a stellar group: clarinetist Paquito d'Rivera, violinist Federico Britos (there is a duet album with Bebo and Britos in the can) and Cuban percussion masters Changuito and Tata Guines-but the larger group does not cloud the intimacy of this classic song of despair.
Bebo and Cigala redefine flamenco and bolero with an artistic integrity that jazz fans will appreciate (especially if you follow along with the lyrics printed inside the CD).