Raquel Bitton's voice immediately brings Edith Piaf to mind, and that's no coincidence. Henri Contet, who wrote many of Piaf's most popular songs, has said, ".... your talent would have pleased her so much.... ." Britton's admiration for the legendary "Little Sparrow" led her to write and star in the award-winning documentary concert-film Piaf Her Story Her Songs. Both performers sing passionately of love in strong, assured voices with heavy and wide vibratos.
Bitton in this release has moved away from her usual French repertoire to pay tribute to the bolero and its most revered composers. Her intense, sultry approach to these romantic classics will make you wonder why she didn't record them sooner.
The mix does seem odd on first hearing--a wonderful Latin band and Latin standards sung mostly in French, with a vibrato that will sometimes leave you wondering where the note is. But past the initial surprise lies appreciation and great pleasure. You may find yourself playing this one over and over again.
In Bob Holloway arrangements, the orchestra of nearly 30 recalls bands first popular over 50 years ago. He uses fairly typical Latin big-band instrumentation, sometimes with strings added for a lusher feel. The musicians are exceptional precise and effortless in ensemble, and totally supportive of the Bitton-Holloway approach, whether in the background or taking brief solos. The gracious and gentle acoustic guitar of Ramon Stagnaro is a particular standout.
Though written in 1940, "Besame Mucho" will be familiar even to most younger listeners because of the many modern versions. "J'attendrai" and "Solamente una Vez" also bring back memories for, ahem, we more seasoned folk. Perhaps the best track is "Aranjuez mon amor," an adaptation of the slow movement of a well-known classical guitar concerto by the Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo. (If you've never heard the haunting version of the same melody by Paul Desmond and Jim Hall, download it immediately.) A few medium tempos liven the mix, but most often, since we're talking bolero, the vibe is languorously seductive.
Because this is a jazz site, readers should know that Bitton isn't a jazz singer as most of us think of one, nor is there much improvisation in these arrangements. It didn't bother me. She projects more feeling and sincerity than a large majority of artists in any genre. The release is a glorious and romantically nostalgic outing echoes of Piaf and Cugat at his best, in warm, loving performances of songs from the great Latin songbook. The album's only flaw is that runs less than 42 minutes. Highly recommended.