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Diego el Cigala/Bebo Valdes: Lagrimas Negras

Diego el Cigala and Bebo Valdes

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.

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