EXPLICACIONES / HERRERA: Two Sidewalks. Que Te Pedi. Principios.* Explicaciones. Ahora. Danson Para Papa. VELÁSQUEZ: Besame Mucho. WOOD-MELLIN: My One and Only Love / Magela Herrera, fl/voc; *Jean Caze, tpt; Tal Cohen, pno; Greg Diamond, gtr; Nestor Del Prado, Dion Keith Kerr, bs; Hilario Bell, David Chiverton, dm; Philbert Armenteros, bata dm / Brontosaurus Records, no number – available at CD Baby & iTunes
Although Cuban-born jazz flautist-singer Magela Herrera was a member of the Cuban jazz and fusion group Mezcla between 2004 and 2011, and was praised highly for her solo on “Quien tiene el ritmo” on Mezcla’s album I’ll See You in Cuba, this is her debut release as a leader. It features two standards, Besame Mucho and My One and Only Love in addition to six originals.
Herrera’s group is an extremely good and lively one. This is no “shrinking violet,” lounge-lizard jazz CD, but a collection of interesting tunes played with a gutsy style by Herrera and her bandmates. Aside from the complex percussion, always a plus in any Latin-based music, I give a gold star to pianist Tal Cohen for his wonderfully incisive and imaginative playing on this set, but there is no question that Herrera is one of the most exciting jazz flautists I’ve ever heard—and that list includes not only such jazz greats as Herbie Mann, Eric Dolphy, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Yusef Lateef and Paul Horn, but also (believe it or not) Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, who I saw live at the 1969 Rutgers Jazz Festival. She not only has a great tone and rhythm, but is imaginative and has a stupendous technique that allows her to play little twists and fills that seem to come from another flute player who is doubling her. She’s that good.
Her compositions are also interesting, playing with time in a way that truncates the beat within certain bars when the spirit moves her. The listener must thus pay close attention to what she is playing since it is all so interesting. Herrera also has the knack, rare among a great many jazz musicians nowadays, to create full choruses that are actually little compositions in themselves. Her musical mind grabs onto musical logic like a master composer; nothing is superfluous or uninteresting. Even in a ballad like Principios, both the written melody and her improvisations on it make perfect sense. Everything dovetails together like clockwork. Trumpeter Jean Caze also has a solo on this track, and much to my surprise his playing is mellow and warm, sounding much like Clark Terry, rather than the usual overly-bright Latin trumpet sound one is used to from many other bands and recordings. Caze also doubles Herrera, playing beneath her in thirds for one chorus to nice effect.
Explicaciones opens with conga drums, played at a medium-slow tempo, and on this one Herrera sings—in the soft-grained kind of whispery voice that is apparently popular today. I really miss singers like Tania Maria. Fortunately, an excellent guitar solo by Greg Diamond and Herrera’s flute chorus pick things up. The temperature rises still further in their smoldering performance of Ahora, a fascinating piece with unusual chord changes that interlock (like songs used to do, back in the 1960s and earlier) in a minor mode. Herrera plays one chorus over an equally smoldering bass line with piano interjections, followed by Cohen playing rolling figures in the right hand until he manages to bring the tempo down to a medium pace. This re-accelerates as the volume increases and Herrera and the band return for the ride-out.
Besame Mucho, a song I’ve been listening to since I was five years old, is given a nice treatment. Despite Herrera’s soft-grained voice, she plays with the time in a brilliant manner, particularly the middle section of the tune where she again truncates time. Cohen’s piano, following her lead, does the same in a minimal but very tasteful solo.
Danzon Para Papa is played at a nice medium tempo and with a strong swing beat underlying the Latin rhythm. Herrera adds stop-time chords and other little twists that enhance the original and make it sound even better than it is, and her solo on this one is clearly one of her finest. Cohen also surprises one with the way he splits time in his own solo, which ramps up the heat as the music crashes to its conclusion. What a great performance!
The album wraps up with the pop ballad My One and Only Love, here sung in English. Again, Herrera plays with the time in an interesting way. This may now be my favorite version of this old tune; she really makes it sound like good music and not like middle-of-the-road pop rubbish, changing the rhythm here and there as well. Diamond has a nice half-chorus on guitar and Herrera’s flute solo is yet another compositional gem. When she returns on vocal to end it, she adds some rubato touches and then ramps up the beat for the finale, scatting over the guitar and drums.
This is a winner, an album I was sorry ended when it did. You can bet I’ll keep my eye out for any further Magela Herrera releases!
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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