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First things first: The Essential Ibrahim Ferrer is not a hastily assembled, dodgy collection of questionable sound and material designed to cash in on the man's name and legend. Manteca's Cuban Legends series has regularly compiled retrospectives of different artist's works (see the The Essential Compay Segundo volume), paying careful attention to selection, sonic reproduction, and getting true authorities to write the liner notes. This double-disc collection features many of the sides Ferrer cut as a member of various bands between 1960 and 1988, such as Orquesta Chepin-Choven, Pacho Alonso, Beny Mor , and los Bocucos. The lion's share come from the last of these. The case is made forcefully for Ferrer's diversity. While his work with Buena Vista Social Club and his solo albums for World Circuit focus deeply on the bolero; here, bolero is presented, but alongside rhumba, yambus, and guaguanc s. And of course there are earlier versions of some of the Buena Vista material here. Ferrer wanted to be a great bolero singer and spent his life, no matter what he did for a living, trying to perfect his skill, knowing full-well that his voice was an unconventional one for the form. Everything here was recorded at Egrem, the state-owned studio of Cuba. The tunes on this set offer a great wealth of neglected material, and showcase Ferrer's abilities not only as a singer, but as a dancer -- he was required to front many of the bands from the '50s on. Many of the cuts here, such as the swinging "Compositor Confundido," "El Plantal de Bartolo," and "Ya Soy Feliz," among them, highlight the way a then-reedy-voiced singer like Ferrer fit perfectly into the dance bands of the eras. Some of the most telling stuff here is at the end of each of the discs, but particularly on disc two, recorded in 1960. Ferrer's voice only appears near the end of "Rossana," but it's enough. It takes this simple cha cha and moves it beyond the simply dance number it was. "Dandy," a slow rhumba with sparse lyrics, also from 1960, offers Ferrer trying to infuse that wide-open, deeply sorrowful Cuban soul into a dance tune. It's simply stunning. These 32 tracks offer a well-rounded view of this brilliant singer who was always in development, and yet always fully formed as an artist. Now all we need is a cross-licensed box set with this stuff and the World Circuit material to give the man the retrospective he truly deserves. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi
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