Marta Topferova

Flor Nocturna

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Chances are good that the Czech Republic wouldn't top your list of countries most likely to produce an original, noteworthy Latin singer. But Prague is where Marta Topferova's love affair with all things Spanish began, at age six when she heard the Chilean group Inti-Illimani. Since then she's relocated to the United States, studied music, learned to play guitar rather well (specializing in the four-string cuatro), joined a Colombian-based group, launched a solo career, and found her way into the recording studio -- this is her third album, her most finely crafted, fully realized to date. Just to allay any misconceptions, Topferova is not a fiery, Shakira-style (or Celia Cruz-style, for that matter) Latin singer. No traces of salsa, mambo, son, reggaeton, or other dancefloor jams here. Hers is a quieter, more subtle, acoustic brand, comparable to such genres as fado, morna, and flamenco ("Gaita de los Chiquitos"), a mixed bag that settles on no one strain in particular. On "Canto del Otoño" (Fall Song), one of the album's perkier tracks, and the instrumental "Ansia" (Yearning), that Inti-Illimani influence is apparent in Yulia Musayelyan's airy flute solos, but there's just as much of a jazz swing to Topferova's lived-in, emotive vocalizing as there is Latino culture: her rhythm-conscious phrasing and her musicians' intuitive exchanges make for a dynamic listening experience. On the epic, elegant "Mar Amargo" (Bitter Sea), Topferova's lament of remorse and resentment finds a sympathetic accompaniment in Baroque, brooding clarinet, viola, and cello. Only two songs here, "Los Hermanos" (The Brothers) and "Tú Que Puedes, Vuélvete" (You That Can, Return), were not penned by Topferova; both are from the late Argentinean legend Atahualpa Yupanqui. That they blend seamlessly with Topferova's own compositions is an indication not only that she's learned from the best, but that she holds her own next to them.

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