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Lila Downs at Jazz at Lincoln Center

Ernest Barteldes By

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Lila Downs
Jazz At Lincoln Center
New York, NY
October 11, 2014

On her two-day residence at Jazz At Lincoln Center, Lila Downs showcased a solid set of old favorites alongside new material from Raiz (Sony Latin, 2014), a collaboration with singers Soledad and Niña Pastori. Backed by an eight-piece band rounded out by Paul Cohen (Musical Director/tenor saxophone), Jugo Moreno (trumpet), George Saenz (trombone & accordion), Leo Soqui (accordion/keys/jarana and shoe percussion), Rafael Gomez (acoustic and electric guitars), Luis Guzman (electric and ukulele bass), Samuel Torres (percussion) and Luis Huerta (drums), she kicked off the set with "Mezcalito," an up-tempo number written in honor of the familiar Mexican spirit, which ended with her taking a sip directly from the bottle. She then sang a bilingual version of "I Envy the Wind," a gentle ballad featured on Shake Away (Manhattan Records, 2006) that featured a lengthily solo from Moreno.

In between numbers Downs explained some facts about the different songs and the traditions of her native Oaxaca, and sometimes acted out part of the lyric—including Soqui, who mimicked a rooster singing to the sunrise during "Los Pollos." The set also included a personal take on the jazz standard "The Nearness of You," a song Downs said she used to sing in the early years of her relationship with Cohen. The arrangement had a touch of a ranchera beat with touches of jazz, including a dexterous solo from Cohen. Also notable were the inclusions of traditional numbers like "La Lllorona" (which Downs explained exists in various versions throughout Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America with roots in Andalusia) and the folk song "Cucurrucucu." Other highlights were "Zapata Se Queda," an up-tempo number from Pecados Y Milagros (Sony Latin, 2011) that got the audience moving, and the popular inclusion "Cumbia del Mole," which was requested from the crowd and included as part of the encore followed by a touching version of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile."

The set was well planned, with downtempo numbers placed at the right time. Among the surprises was Soqui's footwork, which was like a percussive instrument on its own. Downs and her band have great chemistry together, Also, Cohen's arrangements suit each song perfectly and make for a very enjoyable musical experience.

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