Buena Vista Social Club
At Carnegie Hall
Few could have imagined a decade ago the impact of the original Buena Vista Social Club. The recording and documentary film helped to revive the popularity of traditional Cuban music while also breathing new life into the careers of several musicians, some of whom – Compay Segundo, Rubén González and Ibrahim Ferrer – have since passed away.
Although the ensemble’s sole Carnegie Hall concert, on July 1, 1998, was committed to tape, only now has World Circuit/Nonesuch made it available in its entirety on a double CD. The results are a grand party celebrating music that was almost forgotten over the years, thanks in part to the Cuban government’s crackdown on what it perceived as “hedonism” during the late ’50s, and also because of the ongoing American embargo on Castro’s island.
The disc begins with “Chan Chan,” then continues with classics like “Dos Gardenias,” “Veinte Años” and “Quizás, Quizás.” All the musicians have chances to showcase their individual talents. Segundo begins an extended très solo on “El Cuarto de Tula” and, encouraged by the audience, further displays his prowess on the instrument with extremely complex scales. Pianist González leads the band on the slow-tempo “La Engañadora” and on “Buena Vista Social Club,” an original number written in honor of the original institution where most of the older musicians began their careers.
The production does not disguise mistakes, and some false starts are clearly audible. For instance, on “Quizás,” Omara Portuondo’s voice falters a bit – possibly because she was overcome with emotion playing to a sold-out audience in New York City. No matter – this is an invaluable record of timeless music by legendary musicians reaching the sunset of their lives.
- Ernest Barteldes