With his slightly nasal voice, which generally pitched somewhat sharp, Ismael Miranda may be an acquired taste for some listeners. Once gained, he is impossible to let go. His intensity, extreme focus and uncommonly assertive sense of time make him one of salsa’s premiere Soneros. But because his singing is idiosyncratic, to be effective he needs certain types of material, certain types of orchestration, and a certain kind of band. On Tequila Y Ron: A Tribute to JosÃ© Alfredo JimÃ©nez, he gets all three.
There’s an unusual twist though: JosÃ© Alfredo JimÃ©nez, one of Mexico’s foremost songwriters and performers, came from an entirely different tradition than Miranda. The project’s task is to adapt one highly codified form of music to another. In this, it succeeds by edging the material strongly toward idiomatic Salsa. “Un Mundo Raro,” for example, establishes a slick pop veneer that opens into an appealing coro over which Miranda improvises (the thing he does best). By the track’s end, they’ve built up to something powerful. Although the band moves to guaguancÃ³ on “Te Solte La Rienda,” Miranda shows respect for JimÃ©nez’ melody, and this makes for a moving performance. With its Harmon muted trumpet introduction, “Ameneci En Tus Brazos” initially offers a simple background for Miranda’s heartfelt singing. Things don’t remain simple: The tune intensifies as it goes, culminating in a fervent coro.
It’s striking how effective Miranda’s singing freely over the male vocal chorus is in this hybridized context; he employs it a lot, and it works every time. “Cuando Vivas Conmigo” is a particularly effective track, bridging two cultures, the men’s voices moving back and forth between coro and something closer to the traditional style male chorus of Mexican popular music. The trumpets use a similar strategy in the album’s closer, “No Me Amenaces.” You hear the full throated, wide vibrato dominated brass of Mexican combining with the slicker, jazz cadenced style common to Salsa. This meld creates something unique and effective. The same can be said for the how well the music of JosÃ© Alfredo JimÃ©nez aligns with the type of material with which Ismael Miranda is more closely associated. Aficionados of both idioms will find plenty here to savor.