The latest chapter in the brilliant Havana Cultura series of new and emerging artists exposed by the Brownswood imprint marks the full-length recorded debut of Danay Suarez, a young woman from the Cerro district of Havana. The recording was the end result of four days of rehearsals for the Havana Cultura band's European tour. The official account reads that producers Roberto Fonseca (the band's pianist and chief composer), and producer and Brownswood label chief Gilles Peterson were so excited by the music created in rehearsals, that they booked an extra day to record live in the historic Egrem studios. This four-track, 40-plus minute “EP” is the live result. Fonseca and Peterson handpicked drummer Ramses Rodriguez, conguero and percussionist Vince Vella, and contrabassist Omar Gonzalez to fill out the date. Fonseca wrote or co-wrote each of the tunes with Suarez, played piano, and provided her with backing vocals. Suarez is an uncanny vocalist. While regarded as a “rapper,” she is a disciplined singer in both R&B and jazz, and excels in singing in Cuba’s many classic traditions from son to danzon, from rhumba to salsa. For evidence, go no further than the wondrously expansive 23-minute opener “Ser o No Ser” with its modal, spiritual jazz explorations. Suarez’s improvised worldless vocals and lyrics move through the key changes and rhythmically find a rock-solid place in a shimmering shape-shifting rhythmic exploration by Fonseca and the rhythm section, which gains in dynamic, texture, and intensity, all of which she effortlessly flows and soars above. “Hay no Lugar” is a lovely soul dirge with a bluesy feel which she effectively navigates and transforms with Fonseca’s piano ushering her ever forward. “En Lo Profundo” moves through rhumba, timba, funky jazz, and even son with Suarez pacing the rest of the band with her strident, dramatic improvising. The set closes with the much more traditional “Guijira,” which balances son, rhumba, and danzon in a gloriously sensual stew. Suarez is a talent to observe closely as she is ever evolving. This is an extremely impressive debut and an essential volume in the Havana Cultura catalog.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek