The piano flows with a vintage Cuban precision: elegant and graceful with a casual, understated confidence that’s rarely heard anymore. The young flamenco’s voice soars, growls and aches with emotion, painfully drawing out the syllables of each word like a dying breath. Together they create a rich exchange—Cuban and Latin American standards reinvigorated by passionate flamenco vocals, mediated by a jazz sensibility—that’s more than the sum of its parts. It’s an exchange that transcends music and suggests an intimate conversation between two highly educated gentlemen.
The gentlemen in question are Bebo Valdes and Diego Jimenez Salazar, a.k.a. “El Cigala,” and the musical conversation is Lagrimas Negras, a superb collaboration between the wise, 85-year-young Cuban pianist and the 35-year-old, street-smart Spanish cantaor.
The album, a surprise hit, is both the story of an instant mutual chemistry and a mestizo-Iberian affair. It was recorded in 2002 between Madrid, New York and Miami under the masterful production of flamenco composer Javier Limon, Spanish filmmaker Fernando Truebas and Cuban film/music critic Nat Chediak, and it has the independent spirit of a personal project that still somehow managed to win over the general public.
“We had no intention of making history, not at all,” deadpans Valdes, from his home in Stockholm, Sweden. “All we wanted was to make great music. This recording is, for me anyway, about playing music with a big heart, a big smile and a lot of fun.”
It is also one of Valdes’ masterpieces, along with the gorgeous We Could Make Such Beautiful Music Together (with Uruguayan, Miami-based violinist Federico Britos) and the stunning Bebo de Cuba (part big-band suite, part descarga for a 10-piece ensemble that served as a sampler of his 60-plus years career), both recorded in 2002 for Calle 54 Records and yet to be released in the United States.
Valdes, of course, is the greatest living arranger and bandleader from Cuban music’s mid-century golden era, not to mention the father and first teacher of Cuban piano