Kat Parra: Songbook of the Americas

| April 2, 2016

Kat Parra

Songbook of the Americas

(JazzMa Records)

April 1, 2016

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

Kat-Parra-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212I’m unfamiliar with San Franciscan Kat Parra whose facility with languages and passion for Latin music rides tandem with a supple, contralto voice. This CD, a tribute to women songwriters from North, Central and South America, is a curious combination of evocative Latin jazz and easy listening chestnuts. There are Spanish, Portuguese and American songs.

Betty Carter’s “Please Do Something” arrives as a cool cha-cha with definite sass and a soupçon of Parra’s fine scat. During the bass-centric swing “Wouldn’t It Be Sweet?” (originally Charlie Parker’s “Au Privave” with lyrics by Parra), the performer’s vocals slip/slide octaves with skill and fluency over what would have been Parker’s solo. I admit to not understanding the language, but sound works well to evoke the period and attitude. Masaru Koga’s superb soprano sax is a pleasure. On acoustic bass is Aaron Germain.

The samba “Dare to Dream” (Parra), featuring jazz duo Tuck and Patti, is a swaying, barefoot walk on the beach, rocking in a straw chair, dancing under palms strung with lights. Rhythm is infectious. The two scatters at play create particularly appealing closure. “María Landó” (Chabuca Granda/César Calvo) is sultry, sensual. Parra’s delivery is lush. Written as an interpretation of a Criollo waltz with Afro-Peruvian rhythm, this arrangement has an effectively replaced the guitar with Murray Low’s piano.

For me there are two highlights: The dark, insinuating “Veinte Años” by Maria Teresa Vera (Vera was a trovador, a troubadour who toured around Cuba singing and playing original compositions) feels French Moroccan. The wonderful Lila Sklar on violin evokes Django Reinhardt. The combination is rather cinematic—Parra finds herself in a tense, black-and-white, 1950s film; and, I’m almost embarrassed to say, the usually corny “Bésame Mucho” (Consuelo Velázquez). Hypnotized by Masaru Koga’s shakuhachi and Parra’s smoky vocal, the song slithers in on its stomach like a snake. One thinks of opium pipes, smuggling, clandestine meetings. What happened to the elevator music?

Undistinguished cuts include, in part, two by male songwriters: Meredith Willson’s “Till There Was You” (featuring jazz singer Nate Pruitt) delivered like a country club rhumba; and “Mambo Italiano” (Bob Merrill), which even Rosemary Clooney couldn’t make palatable today. So much for women songwriters!

Kat Parra has a smooth, pliant jazz voice. Musicianship is excellent.

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Category: Music, Music Reviews, Regional, San Francisco, San Francisco Music Reviews

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