Strolling through his family's hometown in Cidra, Puerto Rico on a Sunday afternoon and listening to a duo singing the romantic ballads known as boleros was part of the impetus musician Reinaldo Alvarez and his fellow performer and pianist Marylysse Simmons Argandoña used to roll out a charming new collection of songs focused on that genre of slow-tempo Latin music.
"Dedication to Sylvia Rexach" is a lush and lyrical voyage down memory lane honoring Puerto Rico's greatest and most-beloved composer of boleros. Rexach was a prolific writer whose compositions are well-known throughout Latin America, and some like "Alma Adentro" have been recorded here in the States by artists including Linda Ronstadt.
But this new rendering includes a snapshot of Rexach's lesser-known work for a U.S. audience that may not be as familiar with her as music lovers in the Spanish-speaking world.
"We wanted to offer something new and present songs that may have been forgotten," said Reinaldo Alvarez to NBC News. "There is so much of Sylvia Rexach that people don't know, so it made sense that if we are presenting an artist that people don't know, let's present some of her little-known work."
The ten songs on the CD represent the debut album of the eclectic group Miramar, comprised of Alvarez and five other musicians, including Simmons Argandoña, who also produced the album. Laura Ann Singh provides vocals (along with Alvarez), and the group is rounded out by bassist Cameron Ralston, conga player Héctor "Coco" Barez, and guitarist Bryan Vargas.
"Boleros capture a time in romance when there was mystery and it's just a beautiful and more poetic expression of music." — Reinaldo Alvarez
Seven of the songs — including well-known ones such as "Di, Corazón" and "Matiz de Amor" are Rexach originals, while the other three are Miramar compositions presented in the style en vogue during the height of Rexach's popularity in the 1940s and 1950s. Rexach died in 1961 at the age of 39 of stomach cancer. As with most of the boleros of yesteryear, Singh and Alvarez sing in tandem throughout the album.
"We go to Puerto Rico every year, and leading up to this (CD) we started doing research about Sylvia and we found a lot of musicians in Puerto Rico who still remember her and played with her, so it made sense to make this first project about her," said Simmons Argandoña.
Alvarez says this album brings the listener back to an era in the past when more was left to the imagination.
"Boleros capture a time in romance when there was mystery and it's just a beautiful and more poetic expression of music. Sylvia Rexach's lyrics capture that mystery that I love in romance and it's an old poetic sense of romantic expressive," he says.
Alvarez and Simmons Argadoña are also members of Bio Ritmo, a Richmond, Va.-based salsa band founded in 1991. The new bolero album represents an expansion of the group's more familiar repertoire.
"This is a cultural project for us. We just love boleros," says Alvarez.