Album Title: El Último Trago
Performer: Concha Buika and Chucho Valdés
Label: Casa Limon
Run time: 45'47"
Issued: 2009

First there were Bebo Valdés & Cigala, the octogenarian Cuban piano ace and the virile Flamenco singer reinventing Cuban boleros in a fated encounter while cleaning up the charts like oil on fire with Lagrimas Negras (since followed by two other and equally enchanting albums). Now arrives the inevitable female counterpoint with Chucho Valdés and Afro-Iberian singer Concha Buika on El Último Trago, the last drink of Chavela Vargas destined for equal greatness (click here for a YouTube reference and here for an album video).

From bolero to tango, bulería, copla and Cuban Jazz, the husky-throated black queen of nuevo flamenco accompanied by Bebo's son proves every bit as inspired as Diego Ramón Jiménez Salazar aka the crayfish had been at lighting a live fuse on material arguably outside their prior core focus. Produced by the same Javier Limón who just lent his hand—and guitar—to Yasmin Levy's fabulous new Sentir album and earlier Mirame by Grecian goddess Eleftheria Arvanitaki, El Último Trago revisits songs owned by Chavela Vargas. Vargas is the Mexican high priestess of cante jondo. She was made famous to cineasts as death in her live performance of "'La Pelona" in the Frida Kahlo vehicle with Salma Hayek in the title role.

Rather than cloning Vargas, Buika deliberately avoids obvious parallels. Instead, she channels a spirit from the same star and tribe. Liner-note commentator Pedro Almodóvar draws parallels between Concha's pipes and various delivery aspects of La Lupe, Olga Guillot and Lola Flores. Perhaps. Certainly listening to these twelve songs has Buika establish unquestioned ownership of them such that a listener without prior familiarity wouldn't hesitate to accept her as the author.

There's genre crossing to add spice and seasoning. It happens all the time and is mostly window dressing. Then there's a complete fusion which irrevocably alters forms and shapes into something that's new through and through. Naturally such a merger doesn't obliterate parallels. Everything remains connected. But, it accomplishes reinvention to such a degree that the outcome stands apart and above the general stream. Exactly that's what El Último Trago presents. Mexican in roots, Cuban in flavor, Hispanic at large in spirit, in a combination not heard before but so organic as to defy this fact, it's the other half of Lagrimas Negras - smoldering, questing, thrilling, disturbing and above all, deeply compelling. One bows in awe and applauds the muses for chaperoning this unexpected encuentros between great musicians doing great magic.