There is a quiet, almost invisible blue flame that burns brightly when Carmen Cuesta pronounces the words in the lyrics of her songs. She seems to relish each word as she breaks it down, with brilliant and svelte enunciation and then employing phrasing that is perfectly accented. She has the advantage, of course, of having a perfectly made instrument—her voice—which she “plays” with sublime control and quiet majesty on Toda Una Vida. Moreover, her interaction with the other instruments might be one-sided—such is the splendour of her voice—were it not for the spectacular second line: the magnificence of the guitars played by Chuck Loeb and on “Contigo aprendí,” the wonderful Antonio Serrano, whose chromatic harmonica is played with just as much bewitching grandeur and emotion, as if it were an extension of his own voice. But this is Carmen Cuesta’s recording from top to bottom. She even turns a Brasilian classic into a magical Spanish song (“Eu sei que vu te amar”). This is duende; that tortured almost too-much-to-bear emotion heard and felt in the here and now.
Carmen Cuesta is one of a kind. While there may be times when she recalls the great Elis Regina of Brasil and at other times even that other fine Brasilian chanteuse, Rosa Passos, Ms. Cuesta is ultimately her own woman; a singer of singular style and immense beauty. Make no mistake about it Ms. Cuesta can cut loose from this self-contained emotional percolator from which she delivers most of her music. By this it might be suggested that this is a pose that Ms. Cuesta adopts and it would also not be remiss to mention that there is nothing wrong with making a recording that is ponderous; almost brooding. This is a thoroughly enjoyable journey for the listener, even if it might have been a somewhat barbed one for the singer. In fact what endears the listener (and critic) to this music is that it is a captivating performance. Like Ms. Regina, who drew in her audiences into her sometimes tortured world, Ms. Cuesta makes her pain and her joy felt deep within the guts. Such is the brilliant charm of her voice and her delivery of the songs, which seem to take on another level of lyrical beauty.
But this is also Chuck Loeb’s record in many ways. His arrangements are almost agonizingly beautiful and his playing is beautiful as well. Mr. Loeb is one of those guitarists who can literally make a guitar speak and sing and weep and leap for joy. His ability to animate his instrument is rare and he truly shows this off on this recording, on which he appears to have played an important part. Mr. Loeb’s world, while it is a quiet one makes a subtle and beautiful noise. It is here that the guitarist seems to be wooing the vocalist. It is as if a romance is being played out in a hidden drama that plays itself out song, after song, after song. This is another reason why this recording is so captivating: that a subtle love story goes on under the skin of the music between guitarist and vocalist. It is for this and many other reasons that Toda Una Vida is undeniably one of the year’s best recordings so far.
Track List: Voy a apagar la luz; Quizás, Quizás, Quizás; Contigo aprendí; Eu sei que vu te amar; El Reloj; La puerta; El día que mi quieras; No te confundas; Dos gardenias; Como fue; Besame mucho; Toda una vida.
Personnel: Carmen Cuesta: vocals; Chuck Loeb: guitars, additional keyboards; José San Martín: drums, shakers; Antonio “Toño” Miguel: acoustic bass; Moisés P. Sánchez: piano, electric piano; Yuvisney Aguilar: percussion; Antonio Serrano: harmonica (3); Kike Perdomo: flute (2); Oli Rockberger: piano (12).
Label: Tweety Records | Release date: December 2013
Born in Madrid, Spain, Carmen grew up singing from a very early age. A member of the choirs in both church and school, she was often asked to be a soloist, as she displayed a natural gift for singing. At home, she took up the guitar, and self-taught by the age of fifteen, she began composing the lyrics and music to her own songs. Around this time, while playing and singing at a party with some friends, she met singer, and now journalist, Jos Martin, of the group “Somos”. Within a short period of time they began doing concerts as a duo, with Carmen presenting herself as a singer and composer in public for the first time. Shortly thereafter, while pursuing her degree in education at the University of Madrid, Carmen auditioned, and was asked to join the cast of the show “Godspell” in the role of Mary Magdalena. At the age of seventeen, she put her studies on hold to perform both in Madrid, and throughout the rest of Spain with this theater troupe.
These experiences enriched her writing and singing style and opened the door to many future involvements with other jazz artists. In 1979 Carmen came in contact with jazz guitarist Chuck Loeb, who she met while he was performing in Madrid with the legendary jazz saxophonist Stan Getz. Although she was extremely busy at the time, performing in the Teatro Monumentál production of the hit show “El Diluvio Que Viene” at night, and recording all day, Carmen made sure to attend the Getz appearance in Madrid because of her intense love of Bossa Nova, and in particular the landmark Getz/Gilberto recording where she first discovered the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim.
After one of the shows, Carmen and Chuck met, and it was love at first sight. Over the next few months they stayed in contact, despite Carmen’s busy work scene and Chuck’s touring, and within six months of their first encounter, Carmen relocated to New York City, and they were married, with Getz acting as best man at their wedding. In July of the same year her first daughter Christina was born and her life took a completely new direction. Within another year she had Elizabeth, her second daughter, and she made the decision to devote herself entirely to her family. Any spare time she had, she used for her other two loves; tennis and literature. She went back to college and slowly started to work towards her degree in English Literature.
In 1996, when her daughters were a bit older and in school many hours each day, Carmen re-focused her energies on her own music once again. She recorded and released her first CD as a solo recording artist, One Kiss, and began to step back into the music world. With the release of her second CD, Peace of |Mind, on Skip Records, she established herself as a singer and songwriter with a unique style and sound, blending her love and knowledge of many musical flavors, with her mellifluous voice, accompanied by some of the foremost talents in contemporary music including saxophonist Bill Evans, and pianist Bob James. The next CD in 2002 was Dreams, which was a richly layered introspective work, again featuring a slew of top musicians including saxophonist Michael Brecker and bassist John Patitucci, among others.
Then in 2006, after the family moved to an Island in South Carolina, she released the deeply personal You Still Don’t Know Me CD, where on the title track you can hear her begin to rekindle her love of Brazilian music, as well as some haunting personal dedications to her recently departed father, “Tarde”, and social commentary on the song “Religions”, and another collaboration with the late Michael Brecker on the song “Todo Para Ti”, one of his last recordings. Over the span of these four recordings, Carmen’s music grew in popularity, receiving worldwide recognition and a growing international following. 2008 brought the 50th Anniversary of the Bossa Nova, and Carmen and Chuck took the occasion to put together a show celebrating the music that brought them together, especially that of Antonio Carlos Jobim. They toured with an all-star group featuring Will Lee, Eric Marienthal, and the wonderful Brazilian percussionist Café, among others, and found themselves re-discovering their deep love of the music. It was a true labor of love for Carmen; first working, painstakingly on beautiful, poetic translations of the original lyrics from Portuguese to Spanish, and then after coming up against some legal issues, she dove into the arduous task of learning to sing the songs in the original Portuguese. The result, Mi Bossa Nova, is classic Carmen Cuesta.
Carmen is excited about her new partnership with Sony Records Poland, and the debut of her own label Tweety Records, and is ready to begin touring and doing concerts in support of the new CD this Spring and Summer. She and Chuck split their time between the United States and Spain with their two daughters, Christina and Lizzy and their pet sparrow, Tweedy.