Despite originally coming from Santiago, Chile, the last few years have seen young jazz singer Claudia Acuna become somewhat of a veteran on the New York club scene. Vocally reminiscent of the likes of Dianne Reeves and Nnenna Freelon, Wind from the South is the title of what can best be described as her intoxicating debut.
Performing a combination of 10 covers and two originals, Acuna is joined by the core trio of Jason Lindner (piano), Avishai Cohen (bass), and Jeff Ballard (drums), and guest artists such as Avi Leibovich (trombone), David Sanchez (saxophones), Diego Urcola (trumpet), and Harry Whitaker (piano). Supported by the standard trio, the set commences with Claudia’s sublime reading of “Pure Imagination.” Following this Avi Leibovich’s trombone joins them for the first of two new songs: “Viento del Sur (Wind From The South).” Written by Acuna and Cohen the track builds from a somewhat restrained introductory sequence to become a sprightly Latin workout. Significantly, Leibovich once again features heavily on the bold interpretation of Gershwin’s “My Man’s Gone Now” which ensues.
Elsewhere, there is a reworking of Duke Ellington’s “Prelude To A Kiss,” and two further Latin inclusions in the shape of “Gracias a la Vida (Thanks For Life)” and the sparse “Alfonsina y el Mar (Alfonsina and the Sea).” In addition to these Acuna offers an edgy reading of Brown and Henderson’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” and follows in the footsteps of artists such as Joshua Redman and Atonio Forcione by tackling “Visions.” With David Sanchez’s soprano saxophone prominent throughout Acuna’s interpretation of this Stevie Wonder classic is highly captivating.
Furthermore, look out for the excellent “Long as You’re Living” whereupon Lindner and Cohen are given space to work their individual magic, and a charming reworking of the Rodgers-Hart classic “Bewitched.” Meanwhile, veteran pianist Harry Whitaker contributes the dreamy “I’ll Find You.” Without any concrete lyrics Whitaker and his fellow musicians provide a glorious accompaniment around which Acuna weaves a subtle web of enchanting improvisation. Interestingly, Whitaker also appears on the intimate version of Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?.” Accompanied by only his piano the subtle emotional nuances of Acuna’s vocal freely encapsulate a moment of profound melancholy.
Whilst Acuna may at times seem reminiscent of Reeves and Freelon, her Latin infused style is still very much her own. Indeed, in addition to having the vocal depth necessary to engage listeners on tracks as sparse as “Alfonsina…” and “What’ll I Do?,” she is unafraid to offer highly personal readings of classic songs which are often quite daring. Consequently, this is an album that is unsurprisingly creating quite a lot of interest in jazz circles. A top-class debut from an extremely promising young talent.
// Notes from the Road
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