Given this Cuban singer's keen understanding of pre-Castro styles and his rags-to-riches comeback story, 1999's Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer was guaranteed to impress world-music sentimentalists. But Ferrer has taken a great leap forward with his forthcoming album, Buenos hermanos (due March 18 on World Circuit/Nonesuch), perhaps buoyed by his success and a regular performance schedule. The album was made in Havana in 2001 with producer Ry Cooder, who flew in a cast of musicians so varied that the time-travel purity of the last album wasn't even a possibility. A core band that includes LA session drummer Jim Keltner and Cooder's percussionist son Joachim is augmented by guests such as Tex-Mex accordion star Flaco Jimenez, atmospheric trumpeter Jon Hassell, and gospel's Blind Boys of Alabama, and as the disparate musical styles navigate one another, seeking ways to get along, they create some delicious tension. Manuel Galban, former musical director of the 60s vocal group Los Zafiros and a regular visitor on Buena Vista recordings, stands out: on the title track his cranky organ riffs suggest Santana as covered by Los Lobos. (The weird 60s groove is enhanced by Mario Villalta's snake-charmer solo on the suona, a piercing Chinese double reed.) Galban (whose recently released instrumental album Mambo sinuendo was recorded with Cooder at the same time) tears it up on "No tiene telara," his knotty electric guitar runs creating a funky dissonance. Ferrer remains a ballad singer at heart, and the slow songs are lovely--accordion swells from Jimenez cushion the lovely "Naufragio" and doo-wop harmonies from the Blind Boys add depth to "Perfume de gardenias." Overall, he digs deeper into the material than on his last album--his phrasing is fierce and his improvisations are pithy. On his current tour he's backed by an 18-piece orchestra that will prominently feature Galban as well as the great bassist Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez. Wednesday, February 12, 8 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State; 312-443-1130 or 312-902-1500.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.