Stroll through his family’s hometown of Cidra, Puerto Rico on a Sunday afternoon and listen to a duo sing the romantic ballads known as boleros was part of the impetus that musician Reinaldo Alvarez and fellow performer and pianist Marylysse Simmons Argandoña used to roll out a charming new collection of songs focused on this kind of slow tempo Latin music.
“Dedication to Sylvia Rexach” is a lush, lyrical journey into the past in honor of Puerto Rico’s greatest and most beloved boleros composer. Rexach was a prolific writer whose compositions are well known throughout Latin America, and some like “Alma Adentro” have been recorded here in the United States by artists like Linda Ronstadt.
But this new render includes a snapshot of Rexach’s lesser-known work to an American audience who may not know her as well as music lovers in the Spanish-speaking world.
“We wanted to offer something new and present songs that may have been forgotten,” Reinaldo Alvarez told NBC News. “There is so much Sylvia Rexach that people don’t know, so it made sense that if we featured an artist people don’t know, let’s showcase some of her little-known works.
The ten songs on the CD represent the debut album by the eclectic group Miramar, which consists of Alvarez and five other musicians, including Simmons Argandoña, who also produced the album. Laura Ann Singh provides vocals (with Alvarez), and the group is completed by bassist Cameron Ralston, conga player Héctor “Coco” Barez and guitarist Bryan Vargas.
“Boleros capture a moment in romance where there was mystery and it’s just a beautiful and more poetic expression of music.” – Reinaldo Alvarez
Seven of the songs – including well-known songs such as “Di, Corazón” and “Matiz de Amor” are Rexach originals, while the other three are compositions by Miramar presented in the fashionable style of the heyday of the Rexach’s popularity in the 1940s and 1950s. Rexach died in 1961 at the age of 39 from stomach cancer. As with most boleros of yesteryear, Singh and Alvarez sing in tandem throughout the album.
“We go to Puerto Rico every year, and before this (CD) we started researching Sylvia and we found a lot of musicians in Puerto Rico who still remember her and played with her, he was so it makes sense to do this first draft about it, ”said Simmons Argandoña.
Alvarez says this album takes the listener back to a time in the past when more was left to the imagination.
“Boleros capture a romantic era where there was mystery and it’s just a beautiful, more poetic musical expression. Sylvia Rexach’s lyrics capture this mystery that I love about romance and it’s an old poetic sense of romantic expression, ”he says.
Alvarez and Simmons Argadoña are also members of Bio Ritmo, a Richmond, Virginia-based salsa group founded in 1991. The new bolero album represents an expansion of the group’s more familiar repertoire.
“It’s a cultural project for us. We love boleros, ”says Alvarez.