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Chile-born singer Claudia Acuna is acclaimed as one of the jazz singers on the rise. She carried a top-flight band into The Egg in Albany on November 22, but didn't carry any particular singing style that is really related to what people know as American jazz. Not any more than Brazilian Flora Purim did when she became a sensation on the jazz scene some years ago (relatively short-lived, as it turned out). Purim had little in common with Ella, Billie, Sarah, Carmen or Abbey. Acuna also has no real American jazz inflection to her style. That's not to say she isn't good. Her Albany show was engaging nonetheless, and as jazz has expanded to encompass influences from around the world, one needn't necessarily see a path back to Betty Carter or Billie in order to be "accepted" in the jazz community. Tony Bennett has more classic jazz sensibilities than Acuna, for example, but the Chilean has her own way with song, an attractive lower-range voice and a nice sense of melody. From her opener, the standard "My Romance," she showed a voice that beckons to the listener It's sweet without being syrupy. She's limited in range, never going particularly high, but she manipulates her phrasies lyrically and melodically with good effect. Also, she refrains from the theatrics and vocal calisthenics that many young singers in other idioms beat audiences over the head with. (Maybe she doesn't have Whitney Houston pipes. That's good!)
On the opener, for example, the rendition of the Rogers and Hart classic was far from ordinary, carrying South American rhythms from her homeland, while she softly, yet strongly, intoned the lyric. Her melodic interplay with trombonist Steve Davis here and throughout the night was very attractive.
Davis, a player with sweet tone, was a great "singer" himself in his solos, sticking to lyricism, not chops display, that fit the music and mood precisely. The fine bassist John Benitez held the bottom together with interesting passages and drummer Gene Jackson was steady and adaptable on drums. Pianist Jason Linder also stood out, his technique considerable. His music behind Acuna was appropriate and challenging. He used percussive attack at times, as the music called for, and went on more adventurous trips as well.
Acuna did songs in Spanish, as well as English, and each statement was musical whether the lyrics were understood or not. "Ay Mariposa" was emotional, not maudlin, and "Nowhere to Go," was a lover's lament put across convincingly.
Acuna's voice would occasionally not hold key, but she got around it easily, and flowed into the next phrase effortlessly. She's a good singer and her development will be one to keep an eye on.
American jazz? Not really. Sophisticated music tinged with Latin rhythms and a nice, floating appeal is good enough and made for an enjoyable outing.
I was first exposed to jazz while learning to play chess with my uncles. They would play smooth jazz, and then switch up to more standard types of jazz. But, when they played Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, I was
hooked and I haven't looked back.