Boleros by Armando Garzón w/the Quinteto Oriente

Corason/Rounder

Bittersweet and achingly soulful, Cuban Armando Garzón's arresting counter-tenor strolls through this collection of Cuban boleros with such effortless grace that you're almost lulled into overlooking the exquisite detail Garzón uses to etch these romantic ballads. And while he gently strokes the alluring melodies, the Quinteto Oriente plays with a crisp urgency that percolates under Garzón's floating near-falsetto: immaculate, dancing guitar work from Alejandro Enis Almenares and Nicolás Omar Corrales; Jan Ramón Alverez's warm-toned double bass; and the subtle but irresistible rhythms concocted by percussionists Félix Dupuy and Manuel Téliez.

Garzón's voice is a curiosity. Smooth as thick velvet, it has an androgynous quality, not unlike that of female Cuban expatriate singer Albita. And what he does with it is remarkable: lending an angelic airiness to a tune, coaxing an extraordinary depth of feeling from a lyric (in a manner similar to one of his heroes, Beny Moré), and culling inspiration from his background in choral and European Renaissance singing. The result is complex arrangements loaded with emotional power that retain a folky simplicity.

On "Quiéreme Mucho," for instance, Garzón's voice glides heartbreakingly over Almenares's vibrant picking of an oppositional melody line. Then on the second verse Garzón embellishes the lyrics with a head-spinning run of semitones so well integrated into the tune that the display flashes by almost unnoticably. "Se Te Olvida" is so gentle it could be a lullaby, while the CD's single son, "Chan Chan," is a lively drama featuring group vocals among Garzón, Dupuy and Téliez. Although most of these boleros are classics, Garzón gives them a freshness and sophistication that establishes them as his own, as well as establishing himself as an amazing singer who deserves to be known far beyond Cuban shores.

 
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