The final recording of the mighty Queen of Salsa's career, Regalo del Alma was certainly in keeping with the exuberant, joyful tone that her enormous fan base has come to expect from her. With stylistic influences and production value a bit more modern than one might expect from a legend whose recording career has spanned 45 years, this album will hook yet another generation on Celia Cruz's regal, earthy presence. Cruz is joined by a cast of consummate professionals including producer Sergio George, percussionists Marc Quiñones and Luis Quintero, and many of the usual suspects that one might expect to find on a record of this caliber. These contemporary masters bring a freshness to the project that is invigorating.
Evencio Castellanos is one of Venezuela's best-known composers, notable not least as one of the groundwork-makers for that country's much-lauded "sistema" of music education. This album presents some of his best-known works, idiomatically and enthusiastically performed by the Orquesta Sinfonica de Venezuela under Jan Wagner. All three works are nationalistic, with plucked strings stating popular Venezuelan rhythms and melodies against various orchestral backdrops.
Catalan folk singer Sílvia Pérez Cruz and the Javier Colina Trío (Colina on bass, Albert Sanz on piano, and Marc Miralta on the drums), plus guest saxophonist Perico Sambeat, revisit the Cuban songbook in the gorgeous En la Imaginación. Four years in the making, this genuine labor of love reimagines classics of the bolero, filin, and son, such as "Debí Llorar" and "Ella y Yo" in a jazz trio-and-voice setting.
Cruz with Willie is just about as sure a thing as Celia with Johnny (Pacheco). Surer, maybe, since C&J have made far more recordings than C&W. Celia Cruz is the nearest thing to an icon in contemporary salsa, and since she reaches at least two generations, you can bet on this reaching at least the Top Three, if not the zenith.