Kat Parra / The Sephardic Music Experience

Dos Amantes

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Kat Parra's maturity and depth as a jazz singer have prepared her for this deeply personal project of singing traditional tunes with various strains of ethnic music. Sephardic styles within Arabic, Jewish, and Middle Eastern elements combine with Afro-Cuban and modern ideas as played by primarily West coast jazz musicians to form this coming of age between the past and present. While dealing primarily with thoughts of love pined for, gained, and lost, Parra's beautifully flexible voice expresses strong emotions while dancing and swaying her way in and around these layers musical backdrops that are easily as powerful as her non-English lyrics. This fascinating music is hard to resist from start to finish, starting with the specific Sephardic world jazz songs "Dos Amantes" and "Una Matika De Ruda," the former wrestling with an emotional quandary about two loves in Parra's gliding vocals and klezmer fundament, the latter in a similarly sailing mood in a mother/daughter dispute. Every other track features a different style from far-flung countries, like the Peruvian lando-based "Fiestaremos" which is a vocal music celebration featuring the Temple Sinai Choir of Oakland, CA, the straight bossa nova-ballad-lullaby "A La Nana" strewn with tender violin lines, and the Afro-Cuban "La Vida do Por El Raki" in a drunken la la, happy-go-lucky swoon in a straight clave light mambo. You might not expect "Avrix Mi Galanica" with its spacy Spanish lyrics contrasting a North African funk and jazz mix with outstanding flute work, nor the Biblical references cemented in the habanera/rumba core of "Los Biblicos," with Parra scatting as might Tania Maria or Flora Purim during their heyday in a tale of nightingales. The traditional flamenco "En la Mar" is more standard stock with fleet acoustic guitar in 6/8 time, referencing the power of the sea, while the more Cuban tale of three sisters, "Tres Hermanicas," is lighter, and "Hanukia" really ramps up the Jewish traditional holiday with a spirit of whirling dervish or late-night seduction in a dance with flutes, violins, and overdubbed vocals. Parra's musicians deserve a special tip of the hat, including keyboardist and music director Murray Low, saxophonist and especially flutist Masaru Koga, guitarist Jason McGuire, violinists Stephanie Antoine, and Lila Sklar, tabla player Ravi Gutala, bassist Peter Barshay, the always-excellent drummer Paul Van Wageningen, and percussionists Katja Cooper and Michaelle Goerlitz. Kat Parra has hit on something so deep and wide musically, it has to be seen as new music even though traditionally based. Dos Amantes is truly wonderful in all respects, and comes highly recommended, easily one of the better world music projects of 2009, and the aughts decade.

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