Ignacio Cervantes was a sort of Cuban Scott Joplin, a twilight-of-the-1800s composer of enormous swathes of tuneful piano dances. His music bears, on a light tropical breeze, the sounds of Cuban folk styles, Caribbean dance rhythms, and African rhythmic gymnastics. If you like the piano music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk or Ernesto Nazareth, you’ll love hearing this.
It seems churlish to give this pleasure of an album a short review, but there’s very little to say: these are Cuban dances from the late 1800s which sometimes sparkle with merry wit, sometimes play for soft tears, sometimes strike up a loud raucous dance, and sometimes feel like an afternoon sipping cocktails on the beach. Don’t expect depth or heavy emotion or compositional wonders; there are a few touching moments (“Fusión de almas,” or “Union of souls,” for instance) but this is mostly a breeze. Cervantes’ titles often give the game away: “La carcajada” translates to, simply, “laughter,” one tune adopts the title “Cold Showers,” and the naughty “Picotazos” means “Lovebites”! There’s even a dance here called “¡Pst!” We have evocations of petticoats rustling, a church at prayer, a jealous lover, and somebody getting punched in the face. “Soledad” (track 19) was written when Cervantes was 9.
It’s all a lot of merry fun, and Álvaro Cendoya is a marvelous caretaker for the (very rare) music, with a cheerful disposition and the ability to bring out all the diversity and complexity of the Afro-Caribbean rhythms. This may be an album of trifles, but it’s a lovely one at that, and comes with a quality booklet note, excellent clear sound, computer database info which supplies multiple translations for some tracks, and one of my very favorite Naxos cover designs (by the usually abstract Paolo Zeccara). It’s not exactly Chopin, then, or even Moszkowski, but a good time will be had by all.
Thirty-Eight Cuban Dances: complete listing
Los tres golpes [1:16]; Cortesana [2:54]; El velorio [1:41], La encantadora [1:31], Adiós a Cuba [2:02], Vuelta al hogar [1:07], Cri-Crí [1:25], Ilusiones perdidas [2:12], La carcajada [1:42], Homenaje [1:44], La glorieta [1:48], Almendares [1:31], Improvisada [1:21], No bailes más [1:27], Decisión [1:37], Mensaje [1:55], Picotazos [1:20], Un recuerdo [1:40], Soledad [1:53], Amistad [1:33], Invitación [2:38], Interrumpida [0:41], La celosa [0:59], Amén [2:02], ¡Pst! [1:40], Siempre sí [1:15], Tiene que ser [1:27], No llores más [2:18], Duchas frías [1:39], No me toques [1:17], Zigs-Zags [1:32], Gran señora [2:00], Intima [1:52], Lejos de ti [2:17], Se fue y no vuelve más [1:47], Fusión de almas [3:53], Te quiero tanto [2:24], ¿Por qué, eh? [1:00]