Kat Parra is a very talented vocalist who has received a lot of buzz from her two albums to date. Although she hails from San Jose, California, Parra spent her youth in Chile, then moving to the United States and attending UCLA to study classical flute and voice. She boasts a real talent, not only for Afro-Cuban music but the musical forms from North Africa, Middle Eastern and Arabic cultures in addition to the music of Brazil. All of this leads to the fact that Parra's musical role model is the late Celia Cruz, matriarch of twentieth century salsa music.
All that being taken into consideration, Azucar de Amor is not a Latin jazz album unless some asterisks can be attached. The true Latin jazz aspects of the album can be reduced to three occasions. This is not necessarily a shortcoming, but a musical advisory to counsel potential listeners what to expect.
The title tune is a Latin jazz version of Stanley Turrentine's classic "Sugar," which Parra performs in English and Spanish with a full flavor of the multi-lingual interpretation. The salsa interpretation, in a mambo form, alters the original melody just enough to make the tune more interesting. Erroll Garner's jazz classic "Misty" is performed as a bolero with Parra handling the English lyrics, while Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia" is treated unusually with a low key mid-tempo treatment featuring Middle Eastern percussion and Ray Vega's high flying trumpet, which brings the tune into salsa territory.
These tracks take up about one third of the total album time. Parra's real love of the salsa form are clearly exhibited on "Quitate La Queta" and the full tilt charanga "Pedacito De Me Vida," two of many tunes containing an irresistible pulse of energy. For "Un Grito," an original written by Parra and her trombonist/arranger Wayne Wallace, the vocalist pursues yet another musical form, the Afro-Peruvian lando that Maria Schneider devoted some time to on Sky Blue (ArtistShare, 2007).
In addition to other formats (danzon, middle eastern, Brazilian samba), Parra also contributes music from her own heritage, coming from both Russian and Spanish Jewish lineages. The traditional Spanish Sephardic Judaic music is also explored on "Por La Tu Puerta" and "Esta Montanya D'Enfrente." In addition to fluency in several languages, Parra also sings in Sephardo Jewish Ladino, considered one of the romance languages.
Azucar De Amor is a vastly attractive package that amply displays Parra's talents, not to mention the contributions of Wallace, Vega, and pianists Murray Low and Brazil's Jovino Santos Neto. Those lured into hearing this group as a Latin jazz ensemble might, however, be at least partially disappointed.
Personnel: Kat Parra: vocals; Ray Vega: trumpet; Wayne Wallace: trombone; John Calloway: flute; Masaru Koga: flute, saxophone, shakuhachi; Anthony Blea: violin; Murray Low: piano, synthesizer; Jovino Santos Neto: piano; Rick Vandivier: guitar; David Belove: electric bass; Peter Barshay: acoustic bass; David Pinto: bass; Paul van Wageningen: drums; Katja Cooper: darbuka, tar, riq, bells; Michael Spiro: congas, güiro, bongó, pandeiro, tamborim, shaker, percussion; John Santos: timbales, bell, percussion; Raúl Ramirez: cajón, quijada, bell, shaker; David Chaidez: coro; Orlando Torriente: coro.