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Brenda Navarrete: Mi Mundo
by George Graham
(Alma Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/31/2018)
World music remains one of the creatively bright spots on the music scene. A couple of decades ago, it was the novelty of styles from places around the world that made things interesting. These days, almost all of the music on the World scene is a cross-cultural mixture, which provides almost endless possibilities. Obviously some of it works better than others, but this album review series has noted quite a few interesting world music fusion blends that were both intriguing and quite enjoyable, mainly because they mix in a few more familiar elements, and often do it in a danceable context.
This week we have another worthy example of a hybrid that is both edifying and something that you can dance to. It’s the debut album by Cuban percussionist, songwriter and vocalist Brenda Navarrete, and her new release is called Mi Mundo, or “My World.”
Brenda Navarrette has been making music since an early age. Her family were fans of jazz greats including Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday, as well as instrumentalists John Coltrane, Miles Davis and the Yellowjackets. She more formally studied music at a Havana music conservatory, taking up orchestral and traditional Cuban percussion as well as piano. In 2010 she won a Cuban drumming competition. Her specialty is the batá drum, a double-ended hand held drum which originated in Yaruba region of Nigeria, but it has also been used in Cuban music. An impressive singer, Ms. Navarrete says she received no formal vocal training, but evolved her style on her own. She cites Bobby McFerrin as an influence, and like McFerrin, she often layers her vocals to make near-choral arrangements.
Stylistically, the music on Mi Mundo runs from very eclectic Afro-Latin to more near conventional jazz, to music that mixes the influence of traditional Cuban music with more contemporary elements, though those influences thankfully do not include any electronic percussion or loops. Half of the album consists of originals by Ms. Navarrete, with other pieces by mostly members of her band, and a creative version of the Duke Ellington classic Caravan. One track features some Indian influence with a tabla drum.
The album was recorded mainly in Havana, with some parts added in Toronto, Canada, which is also where it was mixed. She is joined by a varying cast of characters, with bassist Alain Perez being the most frequently heard player. One track features well-known jazz musicians Hilario Duran on piano, with whom Ms Navarreto has recorded and Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez on drums.
Leading off is one of the more impressive pieces in terms of everything being performed by Ms. Navarrete, a track called Baba Elegguá. It’s just her batá drum, with an overdubbed vocal arrangement. <<>>
Rumbero como Yo is a creative cross-cultural blend with a kind of mutant rumba beat with some jazz-rock fusion elements. <<>>
Taking a turn toward the jazz direction is piece called Ananda Oye. The African rhythm combines with the jazzy sounding piano, played by Roberto Carcassés. The tricky rhythmic line and structure makes it more interesting. <<>> In keeping with its jazz direction, there is an instrumental solo, in this case by bassist Alain Perez. <<>>
The jazz classic Caravan by Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol, is given an interesting spin, with Spanish lyrics by pianist Roberto Carcassés. The pianist on this track, however, is Hilario Duran. The piece develops into an engaging salsa arrangement. <<>>
With a name like Namaste one might expect a piece with Eastern influence. There’s a tabla drum, and musically it’s definitely a highlight with its mix of African rhythmic figures, jazz influence and great vocals.
With some more traditional Cuban influence is Taita Bilongo including a mambo beat and a trumpet part played by Tommy Lawrie. <<>>
Also with a horn section and more of the traditional Cuban influence is Cachita. It’s nicely done, with Ms. Navarrete’ vocal adding an interesting touch. <<>>
The album ends with another distinctive original piece called A Ochún, which is in two parts, with a vocal/percussion section at the beginning <<> which then crossfades into nice Latin jazz piece. <<>>
Mi Mundo, the new debut release by Cuban percussionist and vocalist Brenda Navarrete, is fine world-music fusion project that combines interesting combinations of influences, along with a very appealing sound. Ms. Navarrete is a first-rate percussionist especially on her batá drums. But I think her vocals are more impressive, with the way she layers her voice in creative arrangements. Though the album is a relatively short 37 minutes, among its ten tracks the stylistic mixture is remarkably wide-ranging.
We’ll give the album an “A” for sound quality. There’s often a lot going on and the multi-overdubbed vocals are prominent. But the mix is first-rate and the sound has very good clarity. They did an excellent job recording in Havana, though as mentioned, the album was then mixed in Toronto.
It’s not hard to get bored and frustrated with the phony-sounding, mechanical, electronically constructed commercial pop which has been dominating the media. World music provides an excellent antidote, and Brenda Navarrete has created a first-rate album that is distinctive, as well as very appealing and often danceable.
(c) Copyright 2018 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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