Album Review of
Havana Nocturne feat. Kemuel Roig

Written by Joe Ross
May 18, 2023 - 4:31pm EDT
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Havana Nocturne, an album by Grammy winner Aymée Nuviola, allows the singer to displays her confident command of the jazz language while paying tribute to her enchanting native city of Havana.  Featuring acclaimed pianist Kemuel Roig, the 13-track collection is inspired by filin, a Cuban musical movement described as jazz-influenced romantic song that rose to prominence in mid-20th century Havana.  Havana Nocturne is "an emotional journey to the perfect reflection of the spirit and music of a city," states Rosa Marquetti in the liner notes. Nuviola attributes her own affinity for filin to the love story of her parents, her father a nocturnal bohemian singer and her mother who enjoyed the endless nights of music to their fullest. A tribute album to Havana nights, these songs have accompanied love for generations.

Cuba’s filin experienced its heyday from the 1940s to 1960s. Derived from the word for “feeling,” its roots can be traced to Cuba’s trova (ballad) and canción (song) traditions. There are no doubt some influences of Cuban dance forms such as the slower and romantic bolero or mid-tempo’ed chachachá.  As singers and composers of this style emerged, Havana was transformed, and social gatherings featured ubiquitous jam sessions, house parties and concerts.

Though born in 1973, this powerful and emotional music made an indelible impression on reached Nuviola as a young girl. Since the earliest days as a professional singer, filin and bolero have served as a thread through her many recordings and shows. After earning the moniker “The Voice of El Filin of Her Generation,” Nuviola comes full circle on Havana Nocturne to revitalize and bring this intimate, engaging musical style back to the forefront. 

Primarily accompanied in a minimalist format by piano, guitar, bass and percussion, Nuviola creates scenes of life and love in classic songfare like "Me faltabas tú" and "Novia mía" (by José Antonio Méndez), "Realidad y fantasía"(by César Portillo de la Luz), "Rosa mustia," (by Ángel Díaz), "El jamaiquino" (by Niño Rivera). These songs covered by Nuviola evoke the great figures of the filin movement and the nights of Havana's bohemia of the 50s and 60s of the last century. 

The most familiar piece, at track 10, is where the band gives us an inspired contemporary rendition of Mexican composer Alberto Dominguez’s 1939 hit, “Perfidia,” both sensuous and stirring as Nuviola sings, in Spanish, “For I find you, the love of my life in somebody else's arms ... with a sad lament my dreams have faded like a broken melody while the gods of love look down and laugh at what romantic fools we mortals be. And now I know my love was not for you, and so I'll take it back with a sigh, perfidious one, goodbye.” More recent material, such as “Tu no sospechas” (by Marta Valdés), “Imagenes” (by Frank Domínguez), “De la misma forma” (by Meme Solis), and “Me contaron de ti” (by René Touzet) is presented with immaculate gentleness, pace and balance.  I only wish the CD booklet would’ve included English translation of all the evocative lyrics as they bring to mind memories, sensations, impressions, feelings and emotions.

“Obsesión,” by Puerto Rican composer Pedro Flores, begins as a bolero before moving to a driving, seductive cha-cha. The closing duo tango “Vete de mí” comes from the pen of Argentinian pianist/composer Virgilio Expósito. Nuviola traverses genres and styles with ease. Her original contribution “Quédate” is an ode to the filinero style, and this endearing song displays her articulate ability as a songwriter.

Cuban singer, songwriter, actress Aymée Nuviola has produced a wonderful set of music with her album Havana Nocturne.  Produced by Paulo Simeón and pianist Kemuel Roig, we also hear Lowell Ringel (bass), Hilario Bell (drums), José "Majito" Aguilera (percussion), Julián Ávila (guitar) and understated backing by four vocalists.

Nuviola, also popular for playing Celia Cruz in the 2017 Colombian telenovela Celia, stated, “This project is one I've wanted to do for a long time.'Filin' is a genre that has a special place in my heart, as it is part of my roots.” Known as the La Sonera del Mundo, Nuviola’s powerful artistry and captivating performance style has won hearts all over the world as she leads this resurgence.  Displaying impressive musical versatility, Nuviola’s overtures into the jazz realm yield bountiful rewards. As a filinera, Nuviola captures a time passed but also current feelings and emotions that remain beautiful and healing. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)