Music Reviews

posted: July 15, 2015

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Buena Vista Social Club Lost and Found

Nonesuch, LP and CD
Buena Vista Social Club

In 1997, the record Buena Vista Social Club took off as an unexpected international sensation. Recorded in Havana and produced by Ry Cooder, the project featured some of the most revered veteran players in Cuban music, some of whom came out of retirement for the recordings. Their entrancing take on traditional styles netted a Grammy, critical acclaim, and the best-selling album their home country had ever produced. And the collective—named after the legendary Havana nightclub Buena Vista Social Club—became world-music superstars. The success of the original release spawned tours, more albums, and a documentary by German film director Wim Wenders.

Nearly twenty years on, Lost and Found reminds us what all the initial fuss was about. The 14-track set gathers unreleased tracks from the band’s original Havana sessions, as well as cuts recorded in subsequent years by various members of the group. Making the release even more poignant is the fact that a number of the participants in the extended Buena Vista Social Club musical family have since passed away, including conga player Miguel “Anga” Diaz, singer Ibrahim Ferrer, bassist Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez, and pianist Ruben Gonzalez.

Lost and Found opens with the infectious “Bruca Manigua,” a sensual dance number written in the 1930s. Recorded live in front of an enthusiastic audience in France, it features a big band laying down an irresistible mix of brassy horns and swaying Latin beats. When the mellifluous-voiced Ferrer makes his entrance, the crowd erupts in wild applause. He also delivers an impassioned onstage performance of the slow-burn bolero “Como Fue.”

Compay Segundo, the late powerhouse guitarist and vocalist, takes his turn on “Macusa,” played in the percussive Afro-Cuban “son” style. Written by Segundo, the track dates to the original Buena Vista recordings in 1996. There are many other gems. An all-female choral group lights up “Tiene Sabor,” a sultry midtempo number that recalls a night on the dance floor at a 1950s Havana nightclub. And on “Rubin Sings!,” a sensual bass line snakes beneath the sound of Gonzalez vocally imitating a piano riff.

When a musical project is wildly successful, it usually begets a stream of bottom-of-the-barrel reissues of subpar material. This isn’t the case with Lost and Found, a fine remembrance of a group of musicians that deservedly captured the world’s imagination.

–Chrissie Dickinson