Raquel Cepeda, prominent member of the Houston Jazz Mafia, drops her second recording, Passion: Latin Jazz, as a follow up to her exceptional debut, I’m Confessin’ (Peonia Music, 2013). Her artistic growth over the last six years has been one of an increased gravity and a centering of her repertoire. She brings a completely new band to this recording, one propelled by pianist Barry Sames, bassist Thomas Helton and drummer Orlando Fuentes. Supplementing this rhythm section are percussionist Cassio Duarte, reedist Ernesto Vega and trumpeter Omar Nuno Martinez. They prove a solid working combo, full of creative brio.
Cepeda can rip a standard with the best of them. However, when it comes to the Latin flavor of jazz (and that means Latin, more broad than Brazilian or Bossa Nova), it is uncertain if she has an equal. Cepeda and her band put the polish on the Duke Ellington / Juan Tizol classic “Caravan,” providing it with a wickedly humid personality and all-corner reaching arrangement (by Cepeda and Sames), while wringing every drop of pathos from “Canto de Ossanha,” perhaps the central performance of the recording, save for the closing mash-up of “It Don’t Mean a Thing” with the Cuban standard “Quimbara,” where Cepeda and company redefine swing with a clave rhythm.
Discussion could end here, were it not for Cepeda emerging as a fine ballad composer. “From Afar” is spacious, accented by Vega’s warm, expressive tenor saxophone. Cepeda, unhurried, allows the song to bloom into being.” “Little Gem” includes Hector del Curto’s marching bandoneon over a tango composed by bassist Helton. The song has a piquante nostalgia, sung in English, Cepeda creates a rousing torch song improbably by bettered by her “Your Return,” a lazy and languid ballad with the breath of warm breeze. Cepeda reaches escape velocity with Passion: Latin Jazz, en route to the stars.
Track Listing: Caravan; Moliendo Cafe; Berimbau; From Afar; Mil Congojas; Lloraras; Dentro dos Olhos Seus; Little Gem; Easy to Love; Lux De Luna; Canto De Osshnha; Your Return; It Don’t Mean a Thing/Quimbara.
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