Bebo Valdés and Diego El Cigala

In his notes that accompany Lágrimas Negras, Angel González admits that the recording in question is unusual. He does not exaggerate. This newly released collection features two outstanding exponents of markedly dissimilar traditions in a candid and fruitful dialogue of musical expression. The result is strangely attractive and for the most part very effective.

Diego "El Cigala," the young Spanish singer generally considered one of contemporary flamenco's most promising figures; and Bebo Valdés, the masterful 84-year-old Cuban pianist, are the featured artists. Saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera and violinist Federico Britos, among many others, make notable (although brief) appearances. More constant is the supportive presence of contrabassist Javier Colina, who appears on every track save one.

What makes Lágrimas Negras unusual is the fact that El Cigala and Valdés use standards mostly taken from the Latin American popular songbook as a basis for their musical dialogue, and that El Cigala makes no stylistic concessions to the project. Instead he puts forth the controlled intensity of his flamenco vocal style with confidence and uses it to read into songs composed for the generally less strident styles of Latin American singers. Meanwhile Valdés is impeccable. The pianist's work is lean, tasteful, and always appropriate. On "Nieblas del Riachuelo," the CD's interpretative highlight, the duo shine with exceptional brilliance while Britos's solo adds a significant touch of elegance. On the other hand the least effective cut is Jobim's "Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar." El Cigala is evidently not at ease when forced to render a style so far removed from his own artistic persona, and Veloso's contribution to the piece, in the form of an intercalated poetic reading of the words from his song "Coracoa Vagabungo," is flat and colorless. Notwithstanding this one weak track, Lágrimas Negras is a model of artistic authenticity.

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Francisco J. Ojeda