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Buena Vista Social Club: Buena Vista Social Club Presents Omara Portundo

In the world music world, popular phenomena ebb and flow, following the same basic theory as the pop scene, in which today’s revelation may be tomorrow’s washout. One might expect such a market curve to affect the Buena Vista Social Club, the sensational coterie of elder son musicians from Cuba brought to the global fore by producer Ry Cooder a few years ago. Suddenly, the group’s music was everywhere, and a new group of Cuban stars was born. Buena Vista’s staying power is contingent on the fact that these were hardly young flashes in the pans, but veteran musicians with lived-in wisdom and warmth-the stuff that lasts.

Now, enter Buena Vista Social Club Presents Omara Portundo (World Circuit/Nonesuch 79603; 40:45), the latest lovely entry in the group’s saga. With a stately sensuality in her delivery that makes comparisons to Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday valid, Portundo’s debut is a quiet stunner. Horns and strings beautifully outfit the CD, along with guitar parts from Compay Segundo and Eliades Ochoa and background vocals by Ibrahim Ferrer. Engineer Jerry Boys gets a particularly ambient sound, as well, evoking a palpable, almost cinematic, sense of great musicians generating friction in a funky, charming old studio. Attitudinal B.S. or digital after-effects are not invited to the party.

Who could have guessed that one of the most sublime sounds in the world today would be a pre-Castro musical style rescued intact from the musty annals of history?

Originally Published