A María Teresa Vera
NubeNegra (via Alula: www.alula.com)
Imagine the breadth and diversity of the music of María Teresa Vera, a popular singer and songwriter from Cuba in the course of a fifty year career that ended just after the Castro revolution. This tribute compilation of music written by Vera and songs for which she was a definitive interpreter, leaves us to imagine, there being no recordings of her included. But varied and compelling performances by Cuban and Spanish artists aid and prod the imagination.
For much of Vera's career she performed in a duo. The interplay of the rich, gentle voice of Spanish singer Uxía with Pável's soaring contrapuntal harmonies on "Juramento" suggests that simple duo sound, but with additional instrumental interest. On the slow, romantic side, Gema, Pável's usual singing and recording partner, teams up with Maria Salgado on "Veinte Años," perhaps Vera's best-known tune. The subtle tonal distinctions between their voices and a quiet jazzy saxophone make this track a standout. Gema y Pável reunite on "Virgin del Cobre," initiating their upbeat, jazzy interpretation of this devotional to Ochún with precise, staccato vocal skat, their tight vocal harmonies firmly grounded in dense percussion, a brass section so far in the background it might be in another studio, and chameleon guitars. Of special interest is "Los Funerales de Papa Montero," an energetic, tongue-in-cheek guaracha about a man who not only survives his own funeral, but disclaims his demise in song. Caridad y Ronaldo Hierrezuelo add so much acoustic life to this long, dramatic piece that I can imagine the actual dead dancing along.
The primary strength of A María Teresa Vera is the intriguing intermixing of distinct vocal talents. I can well imagine all the singers present at once in the studio, competing to sing with one another. Minor shortcomings include the omission of any actual Vera recordings, and scanty information about the performers in the otherwise copious descriptive booklet. - Jim Foley