Mayra Caridad Valdés

La Diosa del Mar

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It must be in the genes. Mayra Caridad Valdés, the daughter of mambo-era pianist, arranger, and musical director Bebo Valdés, younger sister of Latin jazz Grammy winner Chucho Valdés, and lead singer of the Cuban group Irakere, now steps closer to the plate with her own album. A grouping of Afro-Cuban jazz, folklore, time-tested boleros, and standards, the play list of La Diosa del Mar is artfully designed to highlight Valdés' striking alto voice. There's an opportunity to sing with an infectious dance beat to her voice on "Danzonete." Complete with male chorus, this tune is guaranteed to pull those to the dance who love to move to an Afro-Cuban beat. Many of the songs on the play list are pitched toward the singer's ability to get the ultimate out of songs with a romantic theme. The well-known standard "Bésame Mucho" is the vehicle for Valdés to use her smoky eroticism before seguing into wordless vocalizing that only adds to the torch feel she gives this song. "Yemayá" and "Para Que Vuelvas" also fall into this category. The former is especially engaging, with Valdés' lilting vocalizing riding over the mellow sax of Irving Acao. But Valdés owns a flexible voice, not limited one iota to slower-paced material. On her improvisational wordless vocalizing of "Billie's Bounce," she articulates rapid-fire repeated notes with incredible ease and aplomb. This piece, especially, calls for favorable comparison to the matchless scatting skills of Ella Fitzgerald. Despite the Latin theme, there's a hint of gospel fervor in "Danza Ñáñiga." For those who lean toward Latin jazz, Valdés is already a known commodity because of her work with Irakere and her brother. For everyone else, she will be a pleasant discovery.

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