Music for cigars: Mario Grigorov, Paris To Cuba

By Gary Korb

Today I want to digress from the usual "cigar talk" by bringing your attention to a newly-released CD by pianist and composer, Mario Grigorov. Titled, Paris To Cuba, if there was ever an ideal soundtrack for relaxing to with your favorite cigar, this is it.

A press release cogently describes the album as follows: The ten tracks on Paris To Cuba are the embodiment of summertime…the album conjures up beautiful complexions, mid-afternoon mojitos, linen garments, and vintage Cadillacs. This is music that immediately evokes an aural landscape, a narrative of striking up a wandering romance with a stranger, a "paseo" through Plaza Vieja or a sunset on the Seine. Blending hints of Pink Martini and Buena Vista Social Club, the percussion section laps as a wave on an empty beach. It is easy for the listener to get lost in the guitar solos, mysterious accordion and nostalgic, sweeping strings. This is not your typical jazz or world record.

The album opens with "Cuban Soil, Cuban Sun," which immediately bought some of the old Perez Prado recordings to mind. The rhythm, which evokes the sway of a woman's hips, is led by a strident Hammond B3 organ, underpinned by rich trumpet flourishes, and sets the mood for all that follows.

Also appearing on the CD is singer Melissa Newman. Grigorov describes her voice as "a cross between Billie Holiday and Patsy Cline," but comparisons to the sultry vocal style of the late Peggy Lee are equally appropriate. Ms. Newman, a painter, poet and lyricist who studied opera under the tutelage of the legendary vocal coach, Marlena Malas, has an impressive live performance resume as well. She has also collaborated with well-known song and jingle writer, Robin Batteau, who introduced her to Grigorov. Her willowy phrasings are featured on three of the CD's tracks: I See," "Every Little Moment,"and "Snake Eyes."

Mario Grigorov, a prodigy of a pianist in his own rite, is best known for conceiving and creating the 1998 classical crossover hit, Aria, with composer Paul Schwartz. His groundbreaking debut record, Rhymes with Orange (1994) opened the door to scoring such critically acclaimed movies as Taxi to the Dark Side, which won a 2008 Oscar for Best Documentary, Leonardo Ricagni's El Chevrolé, and most recently, Lee Daniels' Sundance ('09) success, Precious.

"This album came about from the feel-good spirit that both Paris and Cuba share," said Grigorov. "I must admit, working with my good friend Melissa Newman brought it all together; she embodies the spirit and beauty of these musical cultures. Her voice created the perfect accent for this project."

You can listen to sample tracks from Paris To Cuba, as well as purchase a copy on the CD's website. (I recommend listening to the instrumental version of "Ice Hotel," to get the full impact of Mario's mind-boggling skills.)

So get out the cigars and your favorite libation, then plug-in to your iPod and kick back for a smooth, non-stop flight from Paris to Cuba.

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For more information on Paris to Cuba and to purchase a copy, please visit

Additional links
Paris to Cuba at MySpace
Paris to Cuba on Facebook


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