Omara Portuondo has been called the Lady Day of Cuba, and on the surface, the comparison makes sense -- Portuondo has spent time in small Cuban clubs, as Billie Holiday once did here in the U.S., and over a five-decade career she has achieved a stature in Cuban music similar to that of the great jazz heroine. But while Holiday's delivery made you want to cry, Portuondo makes you want to dance; slow when she sings over a son rhythm, and breezy when she leads a salsa line.
After years spent in semiretirement, Portuondo returned to the spotlight with an appearance on the Buena Vista Social Club album. The lineup she assembles for her own Flor de Amor features many of the Cuban and Brazilian players she has spent her career singing with, and they add some swing to an otherwise plaintive album. Still regardless of their performances, Portuondo's strong baritone delivery, masterful and mature, eventually takes over. -- Chris Coomey
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