Mojo (Publisher) (p.91) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "Galban picks his way through 12 light Latin jazz numbers on a relaxed low flame."
Audio Mixer: Alvaro Mata.
Recording information: Abdala Estudios, Havana, Cuba; Beco da Coruja Produçoes, Brazilla, Brazil; Boliche Sound, Utrera, Malaga, Spain; Camp Watertown Music, Portland, OR; Estudios Rosazul, Barcelona, Spain; Planète Sun Studio, Puteaux, France.
Photographer: Alejandro Pérez .
Cuban guitarist Manuel Galbán is quite literally a legend in Cuban music. In his 80 years he was the architect of the hit rock group Los Zafiros' sound; served as musical director of Cuba's national music ensemble; led his own Grupo Batey, which spread the gospel of the island's traditional musical heritage all over the globe; was lead guitarist of the Buena Vista Social Club and played on its members recordings; and cut the Grammy-winning Mambo Sinuendo in an instrumental duet with Ry Cooder. Galbán's Blue Cha Cha was finished shortly before his death in July of 2011 at the age of 80. Produced and arranged by Juan Antonio Leyva and Magda Rosas Galbán (the guitarist's piano wizard daughter), it was recorded in Havana. Galbán's trademark electric guitar sound and his discerning, wide-ranging taste are everywhere present. Blue Cha Cha contains boleros, danzons, rhythm & blues, rumbas, mambos, sons, and more. The large cast of musicians includes illustrious singers such as Omara Portuando, Rosa Passos, and Trio Esperança. Kora master Sissoko Ballaké works his magic on the brief but stellar jazz-funk of "Batuca." On the title cut, Galbán melds jazzy rhythm & blues and cha cha. Eric Bibb delivers vocally, rising above the fluid shifting rhythms that somehow never leave the pocket. Galbán's solo is tough, poignant. Then he meets Bibb's acoustic in beautiful call-and-response interplay. On "Duele," Portuando, known for her expressive singing, offers one of the most devastating ballads of her long career as a harp, a cello, and a bass accompany her. Galbán's guitar provides her an empathetic anchor and she lets the sorrow flow -- her vocal sounds as if she is near weeping. "Bossa Cubana" finds Galbán revisiting his time with Los Zafiros, melding everything from mambo and bossa to angular early rock & roll. Passos croons amorously on "Alma Mía," as Galbán winds through a jazz trio and strings with elegance and grace. Blue Cha Cha is not all vintage Cuban music, however. "Rumba del Angel," written by the guitarist and his daughter, employs her electronic keyboards as well as her piano, aided by the stellar percussion of Andrés Coayo and a wordless female backing vocal chorus -- it's contemporary Cuban jazz with a pop twist. The DVD in the package provides an excellent documentary on the making of the album, including (often humorous) interviews with Galbán and the producers and selected video performances of some of its tunes. Blue Cha Cha is not a flashy record; instead, it's a carefully arranged, produced, and executed offering reflecting the maestro's astonishing reach, command, and exacting standards. Cuban music fans will rejoice in this brilliant celebration of an artist whose musical powers were enhanced, not diminished, by time. ~ Thom Jurek