By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
Beginning her career on radio in the Forties, singing with Latin-jazz pianist Frank Emilio Flynn, Portuondo also danced and sang in various revues at the Tropicana, then joined the famed female orchestra Anacaona. She is best known as a founding member of the vocal quartet Las D'aida, singing alongside Elena Burke and Moraima Secada (Jon's aunt) for fifteen years, during which the group defined the languid ballad style aptly called “filin'.”
Portuondo was Billie to Elena's Ella; such were the comparisons to Holiday that the Cuban singer had been introduced on radio as “Miss Omara Brown.” On this CD her Spanish interpretation of “The Man I Love” (“El Hombre Que Yo Amé”) is played as a rhythmic bolero, Portuondo's honeyed vocals filled with uplifting sadness.
At nearly 70 years old, Portuondo is a natural beauty, and like the lines on her glamorous face, the years on her voice only enhance the earthy sensuality of her song. A layer of smoke permeates this recording. Even the opening track, “La Sitiera,” a traditional country song with accompaniment by fellow Buena Vista member Eliades Ochoa, imparts a distinctly nightclub ambiance.
Beautifully arranged, the album features a string quartet and full brass section for the sound of the orchestras of the Forties and Fifties, while maintaining the rootsy, rather than slickly produced, sound that first drew listeners to Buena Vista. The record is impeccably produced by World Circuit head Nick Gold and Jerry Boys, who engineered all the previous records in the series in Old Havana's Egrem studios.
The great band leader Arsenio Rodriguez's “No Me Llores Más,” sung in duet with Ibrahim Ferrer, is a rousing highlight. Buena Vista compatriots Compay Segundo, Ruben Gonzalez, Pio Leyva, and Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez all rejoin Portuondo here, and former Los Zafiros guitarist Manuel Galban lends his Sixties groove with electric riffs on the bolero “Canta Lo Sentimental.” Portuondo does an exquisite turn on “Veinte Años,” reprising her solo from the Buena Vista album with so much feeling it's hard to stand. While the emotion in her voice can make you shiver, Portuondo always swings, never crossing the line to sheer sentimentality. She is the consummate Cuban jazz singer, and as this recording attests, one of the world's greatest torch singers.