María Márquez / Princesa de la Naturaleza - Nature's Princess
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María Márquez
Princesa de la Naturaleza - Nature's Princess
Adventure Music (

cd cover Cultivating a distinctive and coherent style in so canonical a genre as female jazz vocals will test the creative knack of the best singer. Trained at Berklee College of Music, and seasoned for over two decades on the Bay Area Latin jazz scene, Venezuela's María Márquez had the good fortune to connect early with percussionist, arranger and producer John Santos, with whom she continues to collaborate. If her breathy vibrato, effortless range and incontrovertible soul owe something to Nina Simone, Márquez holds her own artistic counsel. Princesa de la Naturaleza is her third solo outing, confirming the singer's mellowing as one of the most eclectic and idiosyncratic vocal talents and collectors of songs at work today.

Sheldon Brown's haunting bass clarinet and the minimalist Hammond B-3 of Rich Kuhns on the Sephardic love lament "Adiyo Kerida" anchor Márquez's lingering, imaginative interpretation of this early romantic standard. The sublime arrangement, production, piano, marimba, percussion and background vocals of "Alma Adentro" are the unmistakable work of Cuba's Omar Sosa, suggestive of the sonic sorcery this duo might cook up if set loose in the studio. On "Una Lágrima," Brown's soprano sax melds seamlessly with Márquez compatriots Gustavo Ovalles (percussion) and Jackeline Rago (cuatro) on a meticulous reworking of this traditional tune from Isla Margarita, off the Venezuelan coast. Perhaps the most daring exposition is her melismatic dismantling of the Consuelo Velazquez classic, "Bésame Mucho," over a sublime pastel of B-3 organ (Kuhns), acoustic gypsy guitar (Paul Mehling), clarinet (Harvey Robb), flugelhorn (Louis Fassman), trombone (Wayne Wallace) and sousaphone (Kirk Joseph).

Márquez also is a keen composer and arranger. The title track bears traces of nearby Trinidad, dappled with Tom Miller's understated steel drums and glockenspiel, seasoned with Kuhns' northeastern Brazilian accordion allusions and Wurlitzer funk, and the samba-like percussion of Santos. Kuhns' pump organ and Fender Rhodes, along with Santos' percussion, are key as well to "Reveron," her recondite tribute to Venezuelan painter Armando Reveron (1889-1954). "Bello Jardín" is a pulsing jazz ballad woven through the flowing lyricism of Andre Bush's spare amplified guitar, John Shifflett's warm, understated acoustic bass, and the subtle colorings of Kuhns' Fender Rhodes. More whimsical, in the art-song vein is "La Reina," a taste of the nineteenth-century Venezuelan variation on the contradanza, chamber orchestra and all.

Yielding up new intonations with each subsequent listening, Princesa de la Naturaleza represents a nearly unclassifiable foray into the nether realm of jazz vocals, marking Mária Márquez as an eloquent and soulful contemporary voice whose best work is very likely yet to come. - Michael Stone

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