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Cuba Si!

Ruben GonzalezDonald Trump’s attempt to turn the United States back into the country once shaped by Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover took another step today when he signed a document reversing Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba. There’s probably not much most of us can do about that, except maybe book a holiday there to replace the Americans who will no longer be able to travel to the island so easily, but it’s a good excuse to mention the reissue in expanded form of Introducing… Rubén González, one of the finest albums to come out of the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon 20 years ago.

González was 77 years old when he made the album in Havana’s Egrem Studios in 1996 at the behest of Nick Gold, the World Circuit producer, yet his playing appeared to have lost none of its zest, clarity and inventiveness from the days when he played in the bands of Arsenio Rodriguez in the 1940s, René Álvarez in the ’50s and Enrique Jorrín in the ’60s. With a group including the bassist “Cachaito” López and the trumpeter “Guajiro” Mirabal, he sparkled through cha-chas, boleros, guarachas and other forms with great elegance and poise. Maybe it doesn’t have the crackly patina of old recordings from pre-revolutionary Havana, but it’s one of the most important Cuban albums of modern times, and — now with one extra track and three others expanded through the restoration of edited passages — it deserves to be a cornerstone of any respectable collection.

* Introducing… Rubén González is reissued by World Circuit on vinyl and CD on June 16. The photograph of González is from the album insert and was taken by Cristina Piza.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Anthony May #

    Thank you, Richard, I would have probably missed this without your notice. I have the original and it is still one of the best albums of its time because the invention transcends the production.

    June 16, 2017
  2. Hi Richard… I was in the audience when the BVSC first appeared on ‘Later with…’ in 1997(?); a pared down group with Ry Cooder. I was positioned right behind the piano that Reuben played…great! Steve Winwood was on the bill and he concluded the show with either ‘Keep On Running’ or ‘Somebody Help Me’. The moments for me were watching Reuben quietly emerge to sit at the then unmiked piano and join in, with his ear close to the keyboard, in the din. He was smiling away, as was I. Not caught on camera..what a shame. Ry Cooder once told me a tale about BVSC on tour in the US. Reuben being of an age and with time on his hands, was always looking for a piano to play. One time (probably more!), he wandered into the foyer of his hotel, spotted a baby grand. Lid goes up and he begins. Jobsworth hotel person comes and asks him to stop – not for guests blah blah. Tour Manager steps in…”This is Reuben Gonzales, the great Cuban pianist etc etc..”. Reuben continues and business comes to a halt. Guests and staff gather around as Reuben entertains in his element. Eventually, he stops to rapturous applause and shuffles off…probably looking for another piano. Ry also told me that when Reuben came along to Egrem, it was hairs on the back of his neck, when Reuben began playing. He knew exactly what he wanted from him, at that moment. Before BVSC took off, I was privileged to watch videos of the first loose rehearsal and jamming stuff in Cuba that Susan, Ry’s wife, had filmed on a ‘camcorder’….fascinating. Then the movie came along, of course

    June 17, 2017
  3. Joe Daley #

    The exhilarating piano runs on ‘Mandinga’ always amaze me- I think that Ry Cooder described Reuben as ‘Thelonious Monk crossed with Felix the cat’- an apt description of an amazing musician! An unpardonable cliche maybe but this sounds like ti was recorded yesterday!!

    June 17, 2017
  4. Gareth Hickery #

    What a great album! Dare I say the highlight of BV releases? Been brightening my life for twenty years and Chanchulo the follow up is recommended too.

    June 17, 2017
  5. GuitarSlinger #

    As a Yank .. a minor correction and moment of politics if I may

    First ; Eisenhower enacted the embargo with Kennedy then expanding it and every president up to Obama continuing it .

    Second ; What Trump is doing out of outright and blatant Obama Envy is to try to erase and eradicate every aspect of Obama’s Presidency in the futile attempt to bolster his own popularity . Fortunately other than with the minority of his hard core supporters … his actions are having the exact opposite effect

    June 19, 2017
    • timothy hinkley #

      Actually for all Trump’s bluff and bluster he isn’t really doing much in the way of reversing the Obama overtures to Cuba. He is trying to fulfill a campaign promise but as the major hotel corporations have invested billions of dollars in the future of Cuba, his actions are severely limited. Let us hope that the people of Cuba will benefit from the easing of sanctions although its doubtful whether the people will benefit from the hospitality industry as most of that money goes to the corporations and we know where it ends up…Caymans? Reuben is certainly one of the great innovators of the piano and I’m glad I got to hear him through the efforts of those involved with the Buena Vista Social Club. Enjoy your posts Richard.

      June 21, 2017

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