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'Buena Vista Social Club' pianist Ruben Gonzalez remembered on film, vinyl

As the documentary “Buena Vista Social Club: Adios” begins screening at a handful of South Florida theaters this weekend there soon will be another way to bathe in the warm nostalgia of that great Cuban music with the June 16 reissue of “Introducing…Ruben Gonzalez,” the classic debut solo album by the famed Cuban pianist who starred in the film.

The double album, being released on 180-gram vinyl and CD, includes extended and unreleased tracks recorded in Havana in 1996, during the same sessions that yielded the Ry Cooder-produced, 1997 Grammy-winning album “Buena Vista Social Club.” Those recordings provided the inspiration for Wim Wenders’ 1999 Oscar-nominated documentary of the same name.

Opening Friday, “Buena Vista Social Club: Adios,” directed by Lucy Walker, illuminates the shared histories of the musicians celebrated on those works, including Gonzalez, Ibrahim Ferrer, Compay Segundo, Omara Portuondo and Eliades Ochoa.

Using archival material, behind-the-scenes moments from Wenders’ film and more recent footage of surviving members, “Adios” is a film the Los Angeles Times described as “an edifying celebration of this music, humanizing and contextualizing it beyond its popularity.”

Stardom came late to these musicians, and “Introducing…Ruben Gonzalez” was released on World Circuit Records when the pianist was 77.

Cooder calls Gonzalez “the greatest piano soloist I have ever heard in my life. He’s like a Cuban cross between Thelonious Monk and Felix the Cat.”

“Introducing Ruben Gonzalez” was recorded live in the same 1950s-era EGREM studio in old Havana that gave the “Buena Vista Social Club” album its dynamic natural sound. The band accompanying Gonzalez includes bassist Cachaito Lopez, Amadito Valdés on timbales, Roberto Garcia on bongos and guiro, Carlito Gonzalez on congas and trumpeter Manuel “El Guajiro” Mirabal.

On its release, JazzTimes called Gonzalez’s playing “fiery, funky … masterful and mischievous.”

The tracks include timeless Cuban compositions and “son” rhythms: “La Engañadora,” “Tres Lindas Cubanas,” “Almendra,” “Mandinga,” “Como Siento Yo,” an extended “Tumbao” and the previously unreleased “Descarga Ruben Y Cachaito.” For more information on the album visit, WorldCircuit.co.uk.

“Buena Vista Social Club: Adios” will be screening in South Florida at the Regal Shadowood 16 and Cinemark Palace 20 in Boca Raton, Silverspot at Promenade in Coconut Creek, Fort Lauderdale’s Classic Gateway Cinema, AMC Aventura 24, Coral Gables Art Cinema, O Cinema Miami Beach and Regal Cinemas South Beach 18.

bcrandell@sun-sentinel.com

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