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Omara Portuondo/Chucho Valdes: Desafios

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The famed Cuban vocalist Omara Portuondo, who has been singing since the ’40s, and most recently touring with Buena Vista Social Club, collaborates with the equally illustrious pianist Chucho Valdes on thirteen songs of heartbreak. The lyrics to these boleros about “love and its thorns” are vitally important, and listeners not fluent in Spanish may find themselves at a loss. Enhancing Portuondo’s theatrical voice is the restless, encyclopedic, and improvisatory genius of Valdes. On “Danza Naniga,” he plays in a stride style, and often on this release his accompaniment has an early jazz feel. Portuondo’s singing embraces emotional extremes, from the sigh of the resigned lover to the desperate vocal urgency of the one abandoned. Song titles such as “Ashes,” “Rescue Me,” “I Can’t Be Happy,” and “What Have I Left to Live” indicate the emotional depths plumbed by singer and pianist. Portuondo and Valdes improvise together, going where the song leads them, and taking us along on these arabesque journeys of love and loss.