As Wim Wenders's acclaimed "Buena Vista Social Club" documentary goes into wider release nationally, albums by three of its featured musicians are making their way into stores. One of them, 72-year-old Ibrahim Ferrer, was the film's great discovery--literally. When producer Ry Cooder was looking for a bolero (traditional ballad) singer for his 1996 Cuban music project, Ferrer was intercepted on the street in the middle of his daily walk. A veteran of many bands and ensembles, a frustrated Ferrer had stopped singing earlier in the decade and was shining shoes for a living. The Grammy-winning album and subsequent tours introduced the slim, unassuming singer to a whole new audience, and, for the first time in his half-century career, Ferrer's face and name are featured on the cover of an album, "Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer" (World Circuit/Nonesuch).
Produced by Cooder and recorded in Havana's fabled Egrem Studios, this is a modest but charming album that addresses the history and range of Cuban music, but is strongest in its elegant boleros and the lively son montunos, where call-and-response patterns build hypnotically. "Silencio," a smoldering, spellbinding duet with the great female singer Omara Portuondo, is as much a triumph here as it is in the film, but the ageless romanticism of "Herido de Sombras," "Nuestra Ultima Cita" and "Como Fue" are its match.
Social Club pianist Ruben Gonzalez and tres wiz Papi Oviedo spark "Mami Me Gusto," and up-tempo highlights include the rumba-style "Cienfuegos Tiene Su Guaguanco," an invigoratingly expansive "Marieta" and the propulsive "Que Bueno Baila Usted," a Benny More big band classic that shows there's more to Ferrer's palette than romantic melancholy.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8153.)
Ferrer and Portuondo guest on Barbarito Torres' "Havana Cafe" (Havana Caliente/Atlantic). Ferrer appears on the languid "El Amor de Mi Bohio" and stately "Pensando en Ti" (also featuring the arching trumpet of Luis Mirabal), while Portuondo invests "La Grimas Negras (Black Tears)" with heartbreaking pathos.
Torres is a master improvisor on both guitar and the 12-string laud, a lutelike instrument with a brittle mandolin sound. In this acoustic venture, the repertoire mixes folk song, classic boleros, up-tempo guarachas and son, the electrifying Afro-Cuban dance music that predates salsa. Highlights include the compulsively rhythmic "Camina pa'lo Chapio" and "Cangrejo No Tiene Na," the playful locomotion of "El Tren (Pico y Pala)" and several boleros, notably "Sublime Ilusion," in which vocalist Victor Villa hopelessly declaims: "What a beautiful mouth with lips of wine/ what fine teeth of sheer ivory/ I wish to kiss them and then die."
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8154.)
Guitarist and singer Eliades Ochoa and the Cuarteto Patria also address Salvador Adams's classic bolero as the title cut to their new album, "Sublime Ilusion" (Higher Octave World), in a slightly brisker version. Ochoa is more of a guajiro (country) singer, and he addresses a wider range of musics, moving from lovely boleros like "Mi Suneo Prohibido" and the solo showcase "Pedacito de Papel" and a half dozen lively guarachas to a Cuban take on tango (Carlos Gardel's "Volver") and a sinewy instrumental encounter with fellow guitarist Ry Cooder and his son, drummer Joachim Cooder ("La Comparsa"). David Hidalgo of Los Lobos and blues harpist Charlie Musselwhite guest briefly, but the charms of the album revolve around the graceful, familiar interplay of Cuarteto Patria, the folkloric ensemble Ochoa has led since 1978.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8155.)
CAPTION: Ibrahim Ferrer made his comeback with "Buena Vista Social Club."