Singer Mayra Caridad Valdés is familiar to international jazz and Cuban music followers from her appearances with Irakere, her famous piano-playing brother Chucho Valdés's band. With La Diosa del Mar, Mayra Valdés should now cease to be known as "sister of Chucho" and be recognized as a prominent artist in her own right; she is both a great jazz singer and one of the more skilled female voices singing in Spanish today. On this debut solo album, Valdés wraps her muscled alto around classic Cuban jazz ballads, boleros, and frenetic Afro-Cuban jazz fusions, equally expressing the lounge-song tradition of the Sixties and the more progressive Cuban jazz developed since the Seventies by Irakere and other bands. Valdés purrs, wails, and expertly skats, affirming the nickname given her by her father, piano great Bebo Valdés: "the Ella Fitzgerald of Cuba." The super-swinging versions of classic songs on this album include the Benny Moré hit "Como Fue," Consuelo Velazquez's "Besame Mucho," and a fantastic pop-flavored arrangement of "Danza Nañinga" by Ernesto Lecuona. Another highlight is Chucho's powerful Afro-Cuban jazz ode "Yemeya," previously recorded by Irakere. Valdés is perfectly in sync with her six-member band, all Cuban players with a velvet touch and confident improvisational style. They include prodigious pianist Tony Perez and drummer Enrique Plá, a long-time Irakere member. The musicians make La Diosa del Mar a great Cuban jazz album, as well as an admirable vocal debut.
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