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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Where cool meets volcanic

September 04, 2004|Ernesto Lechner | Special to The Times

"Lagrimas Negras," a moody collaboration between octogenarian Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes and fiery flamenco singer Diego El Cigala, is the Latino chic record of the year -- the kind of album that aficionados use to pat themselves on the backs and congratulate each other on their good taste. The collection, which explores an imaginary bridge between traditional Cuban music and flamenco, is undeniably gorgeous -- smoky and atmospheric throughout. But it is also a bit too precious for its own good, intoxicated on its own beauty.

Some music, however, is meant to be experienced live, and the duo's stunning show on Thursday at the Conga Room -- a night after "Lagrimas Negras" won the Latin Grammy for best traditional tropical album -- made it virtually impossible to remain unconverted.

Backed by a rustic sounding trio of upright bass, cajones and timbales (the last played by Valdes' youngest son, Rickard), Valdes and Cigala delivered riveting versions of the album's musty boleros, elevating the material to unsuspected heights of creativity on the strength of their unique chemistry.

Valdes' playing is elegant and restrained, a product of the golden era of Cuban music, when delicate danzones and tasty cha-cha-chas reigned supreme. Cigala's singing is ferocious and unpredictable, a potent distillation of pure flamenco intensity. The Spaniard brings to the table the passion of an erupting volcano, while Valdes acts as a soothing stream of crystal-clear water. The contrast creates the kind of emotional depth that is rare these days in Latin music.

An extended version of the title song, a Cuban standard, was a highlight, with jazzy solos by all the players. Responding to Valdes' velvety touch -- fluid and technically dexterous but never pyrotechnic -- Cigala grinned, his voice switching instantly from a subtle whisper to a tortured scream. The encore, a version of Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" with lyrics by "Lagrimas" co-producer Javier Limon, was nocturnal and poetic.

Valdes and Cigala dedicated the concert to the memory of Tom Capone, a celebrated Brazilian producer who died in a traffic accident after Wednesday's Latin Grammy ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium.

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