The rise of smaller record labels and independent music producers has made a significant contribution to the number of musicians from other parts of the world getting not just radioplay, but – in the case of important new artists – the recognition they deserve. Some of the fine musicians to come out of Peru recently have been Gabriel Alegria, Yuri Juarez, Hugo Alcazar and Corina Bartra. Much spotlight has been thrown – and will continue to be thrown – on the latter because she is a vocalist with a powerful and forthright personality. Moreover, vocalists – especially those from Latin America – are also looked upon differently because they verbalize what many cannot but hope to.
On Afro Peruvian Jazz Celebration (Blue Spiral Music) vocalist Corina Bartra achieves this and a lot more. Batra has a bold voice and commanding presence. She sings without sentimentality and often ends lines with a rising intensity and a slight quiver. This is characteristic of storytellers – griots – who often deliberately eschew concert hall finesse in favor of the high emotion of narrative and the brutal honestry of truth. Today Bartra enjoys the rare privileges of inhabiting the stellar artistic regions of Peru occupied by singers such as Eva Ayllon and Pilar de la Hoz.
Bartra leads her Azu Project – a floating outfit of musicians from Peru and the United States – courageously into territory that is not normally ventured out onto – especially by vocalists. The repertoire Bartra attempts here is a combination of Afro-Peruvian classics such as “Chacombo,” “Camaron,” “Afro-Peruvian Folk Song,” the lando, “No Valentin” and a baiao/festejo, “Yambambo” – and a generous helping of music from the American Standards songbook. In addition, it is this clever production decision that has enhanced the attraction of the singer and her record enormously.
Corina Bartra sings with unabashed honesty and is unafraid to make her voice do things the English language listening world is unused to hearing. For instance, Bartra cares nothing about pitch. Most South American vocalists do not either. The music of most of those countries is swathed in a culture that puts a premium on emotional delivery. How else would a singer get into character? In bringing this ethos to the standards that Bartra sings, she imbues them with something special – a different kind of quality. That unique sensuality brightens the emotion enormously. This is helped by the fact that Bartra’s vocal range is lower than most and she can really dip into an almost tenor register.
Consequently, musical instruments blend better and the musicians are provoked into taking greater risks with their pianos, saxophones and basses, and percussion instruments. Yet the renditions of American standards may take some getting used to. “Stella by Starlight” is a growing phenomenon. Nevertheless, “You Don’t Know What Love Is” is so stunning that it takes the breath away. Bartra has also written two originals in English: “You Took Me By Surprise” and “I Don’t Regret A Moment.” These two tracks provide the best look at the personality of this wonderful singer who is going to get busier and make more waves in the big venues of music very soon.
Tracks: La Flor de la Canela; Chacombo; You Took Me By Surprise; Stella By Starlight; Toro Mata; Camaron; No Valentin; A Saca Camote Con El Pie; You Don’t Know What Love Is; Afro-Peruvian Folk Song; Puente De Los Suspiros; Yambambo; I Won’t Regret A Moment.
Personnel: Corina Bartra: vocals; Cliff Korman: piano; Vince Cherico: drums; Xavier Perez: saxophones; Perico Diaz: cajon; Motto Fukushima: bass; Andres Prado: guitar (1, 2, 5, 6); Alonso Acosta: piano (1, 2, 5, 6); Oscar Torres: drums (1, 2, 5, 6); Abel Garcia: saxophone (1, 2, 5, 6); Eduardo Freire: bass (1, 2, 5, 6); Dante Oliveros: cajon (1, 2, 5, 6); Perico Diaz: cajon (1, 2, 5, 6); Tino Derado: piano (7); Peter Brainin: saxophone (7); Oscar Stagnaro: bass (7); Fred Berryhill: percussion (7); Perico: percussion (7); Vince Cherico: drums (7); Jay Rodriguez: saxophone (8, 10, 12); David Hertzberg: bass (8, 10, 12).
Corina Bartra & her Azu Project on the web: www.myspace.com/corinabartra
Review written by: Raul da Gama