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April 3, 2010
Much like a modern-day matador, Claudia Acuña took the stage of the Bimhuis, dressed for the occasion. A performer filled with passionate dramatic tension on the one hand and tender jazz intimacy on the other—strength and grace, intertwined. Singer-songwriter Claudia Acuña, born in Santiago, Chile, Acuña began singing music native to her country. At the age of 15 she became acquainted with her musical models—Frank Sinatra, Erroll Garner and Sarah Vaughan—and since then she has been featured in many jazz venues and radio broadcasts, sitting in with musicians Wynton Marsalis and Joe Lovano among others. In 1995 Acuña relocated to New York City, where she became a regular at jazz locales.
Acuña opened with “El Cigarrito” (little cigarette, Victor Jara), outlining the framework for the rest of the evening—songs inflected with a jazz-ska rhythm line and her laid- back singing style, keeping it small and personal in the beginning, slowly developing the dynamics into a very fervent and warm climax. She switched to English for a few brief words: “Tell him that’s it’s human nature if they say why.” Most of the songs were sung in Spanish, with a brief summary in English preceding the song.Following was “Te Receurdo amanda” (“I remember you Amanda,” Victor Jara), packed with flamenco-like interludes with the bass and drums balancing the act with jazz rhythm lines, on which Acuña exemplified her strong story-telling capabilities, with guitarist Juan “Juancho” Herrera taking the song into a tender and harmonically pleasing solo. The keywords remained “passion and tenderness,” as she repeatedly changed the mood from intimate to passionate flamenco-style singing, ending with a small scat section, Spanish style.
With “Silencio” (“Silence”), an Acuña original, she continued demonstrating how she masters the stage. It’s actually a little samba in a modern dress, with guitarist Herrera going into a solo reminiscent of “Fantasia para un Gentilhombre” (Joaquin Rodrigo), the fantasy of a young gentlemen indeed with a small scat section at the end.
Enter the most captivating piece of the evening—”Like Two Strangers”—performed as a duo, a dialog between the singer and the guitarist. It was a scene taken out of an Almodovar movie, storytelling at its best with jazzy tints added to achieve a perfect equilibrium.
A country feeling creeps into the Bimhuis with Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday,” with a unique rendition, extra slow, mysterious and thoughtful. “Twin-peaks” style blues was the name of the game with a solid bass solo, built from the ground up very carefully by bassist Carlos Henderson. The standard ended with an introspective trumpet like scat section.
After the intermission, Acuña continued with “Gracias a la vida” (“Thanks to life”) followed by “That’s what they say” (Acuña/Lindner) and “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz” (“Our right to live in peace,” Jara) rendered as a slow funeral march beautifully accompanied by guitarist Herrera.
Following was the torch number associated with Lady Day, “Don’t Explain,” taken from the tribute to Billie Holiday project of Acuña, expressively slow and dream-like, with unusual phrasing culminating in the word “sweet.”
Enter Astor Piazzolla’s “Vuelvo al sur” (“I am from the south”), performed as a duo with the guitar, one of the most accomplished songs of the evening, with an enticing bugle-like scat section in the middle.
The evening ended with two standards—Cole Porter’s “Everytime We Say Goodbye” and Jimmy Van Heusen’s “But Beautiful”—delivered very slowly, including flamenco handclapping, with minor dark chords in abundance.
The original group included pianist Jason Lindner, which would have lent a more acoustic sphere to the evening though Acuña, a fully-rounded storyteller, compensated with her warm voice and scatting abilities.
Personnel: Claudia Acuña: vocals; Juan “Juancho” Herrera: guitars; Edgardo “Yayo” Serka: drums; Carlos Henderson: bass.