Jazz fans will be familiar with Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez as the composer of “Rabo de Nube,” a musical air of impossible loveliness highlighted as the title track of a 2008 album on ECM by Charles Lloyd; there’s also an earlier version by Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, on their Dream Keeper (DIW, 1990). Lloyd, in fact, is the dedicatee of “Huracán,” the jazziest- sounding number on Rodriguez’s Segunda Cita, which features a fine saxophone break by José Carlos Acosta.
As lovely as the tune of “Rabo de Nube,” the lyrics were lovelier still. Rodríguez is uniquely gifted at crafting wistful, memorable melodies, overlaid by words that function as poetry in their own right (in Spanish). He has a knack for writing apparently political songs that transcend a narrow concern with protest or politics. Thus, while politically-engaged crowds in other parts of the world in the 1980s sang along to U2’s explicitly political “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” Latin American youth gathered in political protest intoned a Rodríguez song about a blue unicorn that had lost its way.
While the heyday of Rodríguez’s relevance and mastery was arguably the late 1970s and early 1980s—”Rabo de Nube” is from 1979—he has never stopped recording and performing, and Segunda Cita solidly demonstrates that his capacity to produce affecting melodies is undiminished. Rodríguez sounds best accompanying his high and somewhat thin voice on solo guitar, as he sometimes does in concerts, and as he tended to do on earlier records, particularly the great Mujeres (EGREM, 1978). But on most of his records he has consistently favored rather elaborate production, and this release is no exception. To listeners weaned on Anglo-American rock ‘n’ roll or jazz, these relatively ornate instrumental arrangements signal insipid, “easy listening”; but for many Europeans and Latin Americans, these are aesthetic strategies frequently adopted by sophisticated singer-songwriters- -think Leo Ferré, Joan Manuel Serrat, Claude Nougaro. The more deliberate Afro-Cuban musical elements are evident indirectly, if at all (though they do rise to the surface here during “Bendita/Yo Fui Una Vez”).
The best songs on Segunda Cita fall into two categories. The first comprises those that, like “Toma,” “San Petersburgo,” “Demasiado,” and “Sea Señora,” tell a story with a lovely melody and produce an effect like watching a film by François Truffaut. (“Sea Señora” sounds inspired by Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles, in fact.) The second, smaller category, are those songs that could have easily appeared on Rodríguez’s great late-1970s records, that in some ineffable way, communicate something more profound: the title cut, the long and nostalgic “Trovador Antiguo,” and “Tonada del Albedrío.” The latter even quotes Che Guevara: “Y dijo el Che legendario,/ como sembrando una flor:/ que al buen revolucionario/ sólo lo mueve el amor.” (“So said the legendary Che, as if planting a flower: the good revolutionary is moved only by love.”)
For the original review by Jeff Dayton-Johnson go to http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=36935