Cuadernos de La Habana(Winter & Winter)

National Records

Record Reviews

Cuadernos de La Habana

(Winter & Winter)

Like everything else in Havana, the cafe in which you sit is crumbling. "These streets ooze poverty," writes Italian poet Mario Luis Malfatti, "but it would be difficult to bear poverty with more dignity." Proud, impoverished Cuba, an island paradise defoliated by communism, discarded by time. "Music here is therapy, the most handy way to forget, to feel alive," observes Malfatti. Your "Arrival in Miramar" is greeted by the cinematic solo piano of maestro Frank Emilio Flynn, whose lush "Midnight Theme" dissolves into the far-off sounds ("Near the Central Railway Station") of Francisco Repilado's "Chan Chan." The Buena Vista Social Club has convened. As the show begins, the curtain rises, but the din of the crowd hovers like smoke. Cuarteto Tradicion Cubana opens its Pandora's box of pure romance: three acoustic instruments (maracas, violin, and bass) and four top harmonizers wooing you with their timeless, six-song set; "Sibonay" and "Dos Gardenias" set off Social Club's fire alarms. A "Walk Through Vedado," with Olga González's distant voice carrying through the courtyard, brings you to La Madriguera, where Dúo Cachibache fool around like skittish boys at their first school dance. Malfatti is enchanted: "They dance, imitate instruments, improvise, introduce African accents." The evening ends like a tropical breeze with "Supper at Castillo de Farnés, Calle Monserrate." And that's just the first disc. There are four more. Malfatti's 5-CD "audio film," Cuadernos de la Habana ("Notebooks of Havana"), documenting the reclusive writer/painter's quest to find a Cuba possessed of his parents' youth, is epic; sweeping, sprawling; in a word, magnificent. A five-hour Wim Wenders journey of discovery infused with gentle romanticism, every minute of it recorded on DAT by Malfatti's team of field audio engineers and illustrated by his own drawing throughout the three-volume packaged set. Disc two is spent lazing the afternoon away with the airy sounds of Cuarteto Carenas, another quartet of voices and minimal Caribbean instrumentation, followed by the big band/dancer ensemble Clave y Guaguancó, who spin dreams out of music. A chorus of children introduces disc three, and Orquesta Sublime takes the curtain call at the end of four. Disc five, featuring the heavenly Trío Tesis and their seven bewitching selections, as well as Dúo Síncopa and their tribute to Repilado (aka "Compay Segundo"), rolls credits on a film viewed by the imagination, a classic captured best by the words of Cuban poet laureate José Martí, whom director Malfatti quotes often: "Cuba is your heart, Cuba is my sky, Let Cuba be my word in your book."

****.5

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