It seems very strange that World Circuit/Nonesuch would wait ten long years to issue this historic document of the grand, wildly celebrated Buena Vista Social Club concert at Carnegie Hall. This is the very show so wonderfully and artfully detailed by filmmaker Wim Wenders in his documentary on the project that reunited these then-obscure Cuban music legends for an album and a tour and catapulted them to worldwide fame. Perhaps it was worth the wait; perhaps this music should have been in our midst all along. Of the four older legends, those who had made music together in Cuba before Castro, only Omara Portuondo remains on the Earth, and she is still quite active. The other three, vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer, pianist Rubén González, and guitarist and vocalist Compay Segundo, have passed away -- Segundo lived to be 96! The youngster of the group, guitarist Eliades Ochoa, continues to record and tour.
One thing the music on this lavishly packaged double-disc set does accomplish, however, is reveal without doubt that the music in the film is as profound, sensual, and beautiful as it was when accompanied by images. It is true that eight of the songs that appeared on the eponymous studio album are replicated here, but these live versions blow them away. In addition, the 16 songs here, covering two full discs, offer extended instrumental workouts to go along with the glorious vocals, making each tune -- from the opening "Chan Chan" all the way through to the glorious bolero "Silencio" duet between Ferrer and Portuondo -- reflect all of the lived history not only of the singers, but of the entire era for an audience to behold. Segundo's rich and lived-in baritone inhabits disc two's opener, "Orgullecida," so fully that no one should ever be allowed to cover it again. As is the standard for Nonesuch, the sound of the evening is fantastic, the spark in the mix has been left in, and the backing band sounds as varied and tight as it did in the film. The enclosed booklet contains Jon Pareles' original New York Times review of the performance and reminiscences from many of those involved in the evening, including Omara Portuondo and producer and backing guitarist Ry Cooder. This set is every bit as necessary as the solo albums by the singers, and perhaps even more than the studio effort. It is not only a historical document; it is a living, breathing piece of work that guarantees the transference of emotion from tape to listener, and cements the Buena Vista Social Club's place not only in the Latin music pantheon, but in the larger context of popular music history. ~ Thom Jurek