This album, Esquina 25, by the Cuban vocalist Estrella Acosta is strikingly similar to the legendary 1972 record by Milton Nascimento entitled Clube de Esquina. However, Mr. Nascimento’s record was spawned by the movement of the same name in the Northeastern state of Minas Gerais, to rival that of the Tropicália movement of the Cariocas.
Ms. Acosta’s record is not part of any movement, but it has nevertheless been inspired by the goings on the Habana street corner where Calle 25 and G, also known as Avenida de los Presidentes, meet and where Edificio Palace is located. It was around this beautiful building and in this neighborhood called El Vedado that many Cuban writers, musicians and other culture bearers flourished in the 20th century. While this street corner may not have created a whole cultural movement as the one in Brasil did, it is reminiscent of an era that is strongly associated with the culture of art and especially music in the grand African-Cuban tradition.
Ms. Acosta certainly establishes her vocal credentials quite early on in the recording with her extraordinary contralto. This in itself gives her a slightly sensual air and does turn even the most innocent narratives into ones that have an air of “come hither” to them. This, by no means suggests a typecasting of character, but the fact remains that there have always been fewer women in the various Latin American cultures than men; especially women who are willing to go as far as to court the Orishas—as Ms. Acosta does in some of the music on this record. While Ms. Acosta is not as wild and streaky as some of the divas of Cuba were, she is quite the star in the manner of her expression, her diction manner in which she delivers on character, gesture and narrative. She is deceptively plain in the first two charts “Baila El Son Con Mi Mulata” and “Al Querer Enamorarte”. But when she calls up the deity Elleguá and sings in praise of Yemayá in “La Wemba (Para Que Vuelvas)” she is altogether convincing as the enchantress-turned-vocalist. This is not the only moment of truth on the record. There are several other passages which Ms. Acosta sings with great fervour and soul. And “Donde Yo Nací /Cuba Linda” is perhaps the most spectacular chart on the album with its chants and vocals intermingled throughout the lyric of the song.
The vocalist also gets a firm guiding hand from the wonderful musicians she has brought along with her on this date. Special mention needs to be made of pianist Marc Bischoff, who holds sway throughout the record. A pianist who has fine sense of clave as well as a wonderfully brilliant tumbao, Mr. Bischoff fists and pummels the instrument drawing from it a passionate response. His wonderful technique and virtuosity is defined, but not confined to the wild arpeggios and fascinating runs up and down the ivories. The other player who shines on this session is the saxophonist, Efraim Trujillo, a player of exceptional grace and virtuosity as well. There is a fine tresero in the body and soul of Carlos Irarragorri. Unfortunately not much is heard of him on the album, except on “Al Querer Enamorarte” and on the enchantingly beautiful “El Madrugador”. But there is no doubt that much more will be heard of Mr. Irarragorri in the not-too-distant future.
Esquina 25 is one of those albums that creeps up on the unsuspecting listener and burns with a blue, almost imperceptible flame until, by the third or fourth hearing it explodes in the mind’s ear, which is not so much of a bad thing after all.
Track Listing: Baila El Son Con Mi Mulata; Al Querer Enamorarte; La Wemba (Para Que Vuelvas); Eso No Es Na; Babalu Aye; La Gloria Eres Tu; Donde Yo Nací/Cuba Linda; El Madrugador; Esperando Por Ti; Amo Esta Isla.
Personnel: Estrella Acosta: voice; Marc Bischoff: piano; Efraim Trujillo: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute; Reno Steba: bass; Armando Vidal: drums, percussion; Carlos Irarragorri: tres (2, 8); Leonardo Amuedo: guitar (6, 9); Pedro Luis Pardo: double bass (2, 8); Arjen Gorter: double bass (6, 10); Claudia Valenzuela: violin (2); Gerardo Rosales: percussion (10).
Estrella Acosta on the web: www.estar.nl/
Label: eStar | Release date: April 2013
Reviewed by: Raul da Gama