Best Latin/world music of 2007: Salsa, samba tributes
Another musical year is behind us, and with it a lot of hits and misses. With a nod to the season, this week I’ll offer only praise for some of my favorite recordings of 2007.
Topping my list is the Spanish Harlem Orchestra’s United We Swing(Six Degrees Records), a CD that recalls the artistry of the New York salsa heyday of the 1970s.
This is the best recording of the year, an album of great songs, classic arrangements and sterling musicianship. Pianist, arranger and producer Oscar Hernandez leads a great ensemble on 13 songs featuring Afro-Cuban, Puerto Rican and other Latin American rhythms.
The tracks include En El Tiempo Del Palladium (In the Time of the Palladium), an ode to the famous New York club, and Plena Con Sabor (Plena With Flavor), which celebrates the earthy Puerto Rican genre.
This album celebrates the past while keeping the music fresh for contemporary audiences. The band really cooks.
Brazilian singer Maria Rita delivered a modern take on a storied genre with her latest recording, Samba Meu(Warner Music Brazil).
Though a departure from two classy albums of jazzy pop that won her international acclaim, Rita does a fine job of exploring samba classics.
The daughter of renowned singer Ellis Regina and pianist-arranger César Camargo Mariano, Rita was a longtime New York resident. But she draws on her roots to bring emotion and style to the album’s songs, including Tá Perdonado (You’re Forgiven) and Num Corpo Só (In Only One Body).
One of the most pleasant surprises of the year came from Buika, an Afro-Spanish singer who works magic with flamenco and the traditional Spanish copla (torch song). Her first solo CD, Mi Niña Lola(Warner Jazz), is an album of impeccably performed original and traditional songs.
Born Concha Buika, she grew up singing and playing guitar, piano and bass on the Spanish island of Majorca after her parents came to Spain as political exiles from Equatorial Guinea. Buika immersed herself in the culture of gypsy families who settled in the capital city of Palma. Her songs are bluesy and inherently African.
One of the most talked-about albums of the year was unquestionably El Cantante(Sony International), the soundtrack to the movie about salsa legend Hector Lavoe.
Leaving the much-debated merits of the film starring singers Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez aside, one thing is clear: The soundtrack is great.
Acclaimed producer Sergio George does a solid job of capturing the singer and the incredible work of the musicians who backed him.
Nine of the recording’s 10 tracks are excellent, with Anthony masterfully delivering Lavoe’s tone, phrasing and style. The album’s tracks include El Cantante (The Singer), Mi Gente (My People) and Escándalo (Scandal).
Lopez’s Toma de mi, a commercial and boring modern pop tune that rounds out the recording, is the album’s lone dud.
Rest of the best
My last few picks for 2007 include Cê(UMVD Import), a fine album by Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso that employs a rock band of younger musicians; Zamazu(Enja/Justin Time), by Cuban jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca; and Rokku Mi Rokka(Wea/Atlantic/Nonesuch), by Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour. All are worthy picks for world music aficionados.