Lagrimas Negras is a summit meeting between Ramon "Bebo" Valdes, the Cuban grandmaster pianist/composer/bandleader, and Flamenco vocalist Diego Jimenez Salazar "El Cigala." One of the reasons this disc works so wonderfully is that Bebo, the relatively young one, at 35 years of age he is 50 years Bebo’s junior, has an old soul. You honestly can’t tell there is an age difference, in style or temperament, between the two. Listening to the exquisite communication between these two artists one would have to believe they had grown up in each other’s neighborhood. The way Bebo and Cigala mesh their styles to touch the musical heart of the other is incomparable.
As historical icons you would be hard pressed to find two more exquisite artists in duet on any continent. Bebo recorded the first Cuban Jazz jam session in 1952, and Cigala is widely respected as the first, in a long time, to create a new path in Flamenco singing by respecting the historical with a nod to the future.
On every one of these uncatagorizable yet distinctly Mediterranean/Afro-Cuban pieces, the gentlemen lay bare their souls. By choosing to be accompanied, only occasionally, by bass and cajon they are able to dive directly into the heart of the music. There is no twisting and turning of their lines around each other here, they are always in perfect sync. No matter which direction Cigala goes with his vocalizations, Bebo has already anticipated and set it up by lightly placed lines. Even if the shift is instantaneous, Bebo is right there. The concept of soloist and accompanist doesn’t hold; this is a duet in the finest and most true tradition.
Bebo is just as much responsible for the rhythmic drive on this recording as Cigala. Bebo’s vocals, at times trembling and at times heart-wrenchingly serene, are full of lively out-of-the-ordinary accented syllables that allow Cigala to create luxurious harmonic manifestations of the rhythm vocally supplied. To an equal extent Cigala’s piano lines are so melodic that Bebo can, at times, relax and allow his tones to color the flowing phrase shapes harmonically and not always feel dependently responsible for the melody.
There’s a reason this recording, when originally released last year in Spain, was nominated for five Latin Grammy awards - every track is excellent. This music demands to be savored, and you will often and repeatedly. For that reason alone, though there are many other ones, it’s a shame this disc comes in at only 38+ minutes. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up - it’s not often one gets to hear such masters perform in duo.