Bilingual and multi-cultural jazz vocalist Lauren Henderson, who has appeared on these pages before, returns with an album that explores love and relationships in a blend of styles. The traditions that influence her sound, jazz, flamenco, and Afro-Latinx are here in a bigger way than they have been on her seven previous releases. Musa features eleven originals and a few interpretations of standards, including “I Concentrate on You,” “Wild Is the Wind” and Valerie Parks Brown’s “Forget Me,” the first single release.
Given the eclectic mix of styles, it was a challenge to recruit the right musicians beyond her first-call pianist Sullivan Fortner, with whom she has recorded all her albums since 2011. Bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Joe Dyson round out the core trio with musicians appearing on select tracks that include trumpeter Marquis Hill, electric guitarist Nick Tannura, stage, screen and studio performer Daniel J. Watts, Madrid-based flamenco guitarist Paco Soto, and legendary flamenco percussionist Sabu Porrina. Basic tracks were recorded by the core trio during the pandemic and these extended players thereby recorded their parts remotely.
Henderson speaks fluid Spanish and much of the album is sung in that language. Right off, “I Concentrate on You” features Soto’s flamenco guitar as does “La Marejeda” as his guitar weaves in and around Henderson’s melodies. Wheeler’s bass plucking adds a bit of tension to the latter. “Forget Me” has Hill adding lyrical trumpet lines while “Corazon, No Llores,” an up temp bossa, sees Tannura joining the trio for an animated solo. Throughout, as we’ve come to expect, Fortner is brilliant and it’s easy to see why he is often the first to be called on to support vocalists, the intimate “Wild Is the Wind” being perhaps the strongest case in point.
“Leeward” is the album’s sole English-lyric original, a hymn to the enduring nature of love, capturing Henderson’s delicate, sultry phrasing perfectly as Hill’s trumpet converses with her in call and response mode. Henderson is a self-confessed nuanced vocalist, not a belter by any means so she’s perfectly suited to the quiet, romantic fare which permeates these songs. Dyson’s lyrical bass leads into the buoyant “Ahora” which also features some terrific work on the kit from Dyson. Both the sultry late-night strains of “The Sweetest Sounds” and the effervescent title track have Soto returning for his flamenco touches, with percussionist Porrina making his only but very notable appearance on the title track as well. A different version of “Leeward” reprises as a bonus track with Daniel J. Watts joining for rather unnecessary spoken word over Hill’s trumpet. It’s not an egregious misstep and arguably, the only one.
This is beautiful, relaxing and get-close-to-your-significant-other music or private stay-up-late-at-night listening. Take your choice or try both. You’ll win either way.
- Jim Hynes
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