Cuban singer revives Nat "King" Cole's Latin numbers

Fri Aug 20, 2010 10:46pm EDT
 
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By Judy Cantor-Navas

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - In 1956, Nat "King" Cole emerged from a plane in Havana holding a pair of maracas and began a series of dates at the club Tropicana. For the first of Cole's three subsequent Spanish-language albums, 1958's "Cole Espanol," he was coached by Bebo Valdes, then the pianist with the Tropicana's Armando Romeu Orchestra, to phonetically sound out the lyrics.

The suave but quirky charm of Cole's notable American accent and the swing of the musicians who joined him on great songs by Latin composers and Spanish translations of popular English numbers made the trilogy of Cole's "Espanol" albums a hit in Latin America and beyond.

"Cole paid homage to Latin American music and the Spanish language with the effort he put into singing these songs and the feeling with which he sang them," says Issac Delgado, whose album "L-O-V-E" includes 12 songs from Cole's repertoire and features the celebrated singer's brother, vocalist Freddy Cole, and a cast of top Latin and jazz players. It will be released August 31 on Calle 54/Sony Masterworks.

A megastar in Cuba, Delgado is known for his elegant but streetwise approach to the aggressively percussive Cuban dance music called timba, or Cuban salsa. The departure he takes with the jazzy romantic ballads on this album is something of a return to his roots.

"This is timeless music for me," says Delgado, who moved to the United States in 2006 and now lives in Miami. "It was the music we listened to every day in my house growing up."

The songs on "L-O-V-E," including a Spanish version of the title track, have a distinctly contemporary vibe, drained of the syrupy flavor characteristic of Cole's time. Pulling from the extended Cole songbook, the album also includes a song in Portuguese, and two additional tracks -- "Mona Lisa" and "Stardust" -- will be available as digital extras.

Sony Masterworks general manager/senior vice president Alex Miller says he first heard "L-O-V-E" after Sony Spain released it last spring and immediately made plans for it to be released stateside. He says the album will be promoted "the old-fashioned way," around an extensive U.S. tour that Delgado will do with Cole in the fall.

"I didn't want people to feel they were listening to an old chestnut. I wanted it to sound as though it had just popped out of the oven," says producer Nat Chediak, who, by working with Spanish filmmaker/producer Fernando Trueba on the latter's Calle 54 label, has brought new life to Latin classics on a series of critically acclaimed albums, including the Grammy Award-winning "Bebo y Cigala." "I wanted the musicians to stretch," Chediak adds.

"We were having fun in the studio," says Cole, who once accompanied his brother on one of his visits to Havana. "Everyone was loose and free, and it came off that way."

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<p>Issac Delgado poses at the 10th annual Latin Grammy awards in Las Vegas, Nevada November 5, 2009. REUTERS/Steve Marcus</p>