From the opening sway of Chan Chan, the album is no disappointment, the rhythmic vibrancy of the group invoking the spirit of 1940s Havana, whilst the sound of the crowd amongst the haunting refrains of lost love (sung by a 91 year old Compay Segundo in Dos Gardenias, no less) brings the album the atmosphere the studio album perhaps lacked a little.
The existence of the recording becomes yet more of a feat when you look at the history of the group – that members emerged from retirement to play, piano virtuoso Ruben Gonzalez constantly nursing his arthritis while no longer owning a piano due to an infestation of termites – there were a few things to overcome. Many of the members had never been to America before playing the great Carnegie Hall, and the excitement is contagious still, even through the medium of a ten year old recording.
These were great, great musicians, the like of which I doubt you can hear today – as guitarist Ry Cooder said on release of the album, “You’ll never hear it again, people of this calibre working together. They were dramatic personalities and they’re now nearly all gone. There’s nobody left like that any more.”
This sums up the poignancy of the album – with the very music mourning and simultaneously celebrating a Cuba which is more and more fading, less and less of this era and the people who embodied it remain. From the opening track through to the closing Silencio, the album resonates with the echo of a complicated, rich past drafted with nostalgia – this is a heart-achingly beautiful recording.
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