Recorded in New York just after the trauma of 9/11, Espíritu Vivo marries Susana Baca's wonderfully airy vocals and her usual Peruvian backing band with the downtown N.Y.C. sounds of John Medeski and guitarist Marc Ribot -- and it proves to be a wonderful union indeed. Recorded before a small invited audience, this has the immediacy of a live album, with the benefits of the studio, a superb balance of instruments. As usual, most of the material comes from the Afro-Peruvian canon that's Baca's hallmark, but she does draw upon outsiders for three interesting covers: Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue," Caetano Veloso's "13 de Mayo," and most surprisingly of all, "Anchor Song" from Björk. But she integrates them perfectly into her style, taking them all to a place they'd never imagined, where her voice can be dreamlike over a simple backing, as on the gorgeous "Si Me Quitaran Totalamente Todo" and "Les Feuilles Mortes," or more rhythmically lively, which she finds on "Caracunde" and "Se Me Van los Pies." Medeski and Ribot work well with the combo, Ribot especially, offering unusual atmospheric licks throughout, while Medeski's Hammond organ offers a warm bed a sound for Baca's voice. Given the time and place of recording, there's an astonishingly transcendental quality to the record, as if Baca is giving every iota of herself to the music, and the players are following her lead. Her best album to date, which is quite a claim.
AllMusic Review by Chris Nickson