Album Review: At Carnegie Hall [Live] by Buena Vista Social Club
Fantastic, Based on 5 Critics
AllMusic - 100 Based on rating 10/10
One thing the music on this lavishly packaged double-disc set does accomplish, however, is reveal without doubt that the music in the film is as profound, sensual, and beautiful as it was when accompanied by images. It is true that eight of the songs that appeared on the eponymous studio album are replicated here, but these live versions blow them away. In addition, the 16 songs here, covering two full discs, offer extended instrumental workouts to go along with the glorious vocals, making each tune -- from the opening "Chan Chan" all the way through to the glorious bolero "Silencio" duet between Ferrer and Portuondo -- reflect all of the lived history not only of the singers, but of the entire era for an audience to behold.
In today’s globalized and mostly capitalist world the effects of musical diplomacy can be overlooked. After all, most any music can be listened to and consumed by anyone most anywhere in the world. Cultural exchanges (albeit by P2P or iTunes) occur regularly, efficiently and subconsciously. Despite its nuanced prevalence, though, profound impacts through musical exchange have been considered for centuries and could still provide opportunities today, with timely releases like the Buena Vista Social Club’s 1997 eponymous debut album and most recently their live recording, At Carnegie Hall.
In the 12 years since Compay Segundo, Rubén González and Ibrahim Ferrer came together in Havana at the behest of Ry Cooder to form the core of Buena Vista Social Club, all three old-school Cuban maestros have passed away. Thankfully some of their amazing performances have been preserved, like this triumphant U.S. debut appearance at Carnegie Hall on July 1, 1998, just released as a fabulous two-disc set.
You might think you'd heard all you needed of the Buena Vistas gang – the 1997 classic album sold eight million copies – but this live double album, recorded in July 1998, offers another take on those great songs. It was one of only two concerts by the full ensemble, even while it became clear that they were set to become a global phenomenon. .
Recorded just over a decade ago, this is an emotional reminder that the short-lived Cuban supergroup really did justify their global reputation. The set includes 10 songs that appeared on their one studio album, with versions of those rousing favourites Chan Chan and El Cuarto de Tula, which is driven on by some inspired guitar work from Eliades Ochoa, through to the late Ibrahim Ferrer's exquisite bolero Dos Gardenias. Then there are six other songs that didn't appear on that first recording, and which provide a reminder of the band's remarkable range.