The dazzling virtuosity combined with the immediacy of the pianism that Pepe Rivero brings to this music, as well as the dark and seductive lyricism of the voice of Ángela Cervantes, bring this bejeweled music by Sylvia Rexach to life. And this, together with the beautiful gravitas of Reinier “El Negrón” Elizarde and his contrabass, and the hiss and rumble of Michael Olivera’s percussion colours makes this album, Olas y Arenas a truly extraordinary one.
European audiences may recognise Ángela Cervantes from glare of the spotlight of performances of the Spanish-language Pink Floyd act from Ibiza. To the rest of us, her featured vocals on this album will really leap out of the speakers. She pins her extended range of her mezzo-soprano to these beckoning – and often poignant – lyrics with a poetry that surely comes from her Iberian soul. She is presciently aware that the soul of a song is infinitely more important than the shape of the body it resides in. This makes her renditions altogether less girlish, more womanly and therefore more imposing than some of her contemporaries who may attempt this repertoire.
Moreover, Miss Cervantes’ approach to the characters in the narratives is defined by deep feeling and slow-burning intensity than by role-playing. Thus she brings out both the strength and vulnerability of the persons and their emotions. She can wring extraordinary lament from simple phrases – sometimes with just a sigh or a non-word, verbalised sound that comes not even from her throat, but from deep within her chest.
To match someone of this power more requires musicians of equal – if not towering personality and expansive – even explosive – readiness to go where the vocalist beckons. Pepe Rivero is just that kind of accompanist – one who shines both in the limelight, when the vocalist – overcome with emotion, must step away to gather herself and her thoughts – and in the shadows where he comps and resides offering de rigueur harmonic and rhythmic support. Mr Rivero plays with astutely interpretive pianism dipping into his cornucopia of ideas – such as he does on “Es tarde ya” – to even find inspirational quotations from George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” to match in breadth and depth the emotional intensity of Miss Cervantes’ vocals.
I particularly relished the detailed, individualistic personality that Mr Rivero brings to the music, playing complementary – or opposing – characters to that of Miss Cervantes. His soli are far from just ornamental. They are probative, designed – in their elliptical arcs and spirals that jump forwards and backwards – to test the melodic and harmonic ideas of the very songs upon which they are built.
Meanwhile, El Negron’s ink-dark tone is hot and molten and he pours – rather than plays – thick lines onto the music. And Michael Olivera is a sublime percussion colourist, often relying on the mere whispered hiss of cymbals and the caress of brushes on skins to tell a more evocative rhythmic story than many drummers who would need loud rattles on snares and thunderous bass drums to convey a similar emotion. The delicious lines that are woven into “Olas y Arenas” and “Por siempre” by Ariel Brínguez with his saxophones; and which Miguel Zenón does likewise on “Mi versión” with alto and lip-smacking relish also go a long way to making this album one for the ages.
Tracks – 1: Di corazón; 2: En mis sueños; 3: Matiz de amor; 4: Alma adentro; 5: Anochecer; 6: Es tarde ya; 7: Nave sin rumbo; 8: Olas y arenas; 9: Y entonces; 10: Por siempre; 11: Mi versión
Personnel – Pepe Rivero: piano; Ángela Cervantes: vocals; Reiner “El Negron” Elizarde: contrabass; Michael Olivera: bateria; Ariel Brínguez: alto saxophone  and soprano saxophone [1
Released – 2021
Label – Jazz Latino Inc [JL010]
Runtime – 1:06:26