Kat Parra
"Azucar de Amor"

(Patois Records)
Azucar De Amor

Review by Brad Walseth

Another SF Bay area artist, coinciding with my recent sojourn to the region, Kat Parra is a singer who merges a plethora of styles into her output, including Latin, traditional cabaret jazz and even Spanish Sephardic songs. This combination is a winner due to the song choices and arrangements (by trombonist Wayne Wallace and pianist Murray Low), the incredible cast of backing musicians (including star trumpeter Ray Vega), and Parra's vocals which range from audacious to sublime and are delivered by the singer with fire, fervor and a wellspring of life energy.

A powerhouse mambo/salsa version of Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar," with lyrics by Parra, starts things off like a string of firecrackers that will have listeners dancing for joy, while "Por La Tu Puerta" is a compelling merging of a traditional Sephardic song with Latin Jazz that works so well it has to heard to be believed. Parra sings naturally in several languages and her voice is a treat, sweet and sassy. "Quitate La Querta" features enjoyable call and response and a singing Vega trumpet solo. Meanwhile, Low's piano leads a driving rhythm section that often features a wide range of percussion instruments from around the world. The rhythm beds produced by the cast of percussionists propels the music with energy.

Parra can slow it down too, as on the delicious "Cancion Con Todos" that showcases Anthony Blea's violin and John Calloway's flute. And casting the standard "Misty" as a bolero is a very nice touch. Wayne Wallace's sublime trombone and Jovino Santos Neto's excellent piano provide the perfect complement to Parra's sumptious vocals on this interesting take on the old dusty tune.

There are plenty of surprises, like the Afro-Peruvian "Un Grito," which brings guitarist Rick Vandivier's nylon string guitar into play, and the intriguing version of "A Night in Tunisia" which adds a salsa beat to this mid-eastern-influenced melody. Peter Barshay's bowed bass introduces the lovely Sephardic ballad, "Esta Montanya D'Enfrente," and Masuru Koga adds an other-worldly shakuhachi flute to Parra's spiritual voice. When Low's jazz piano makes it's entrance, the sense that all forms of music come from a similar wellspring is hard to dispute. Uptempo songs "Perdacito De Mi Vida" and closer "Feed My Desire" (with Vandivier on funky electric guitar) are to please fans of the Latin music genre, as well as casual listeners. "Azucar De Amor" is the perfect summer music - an alluring outing by a talented vocalist, in which the compositions reflect a well-arranged blend of world styles, and where you find the vocals addictive and rhythms irresistible.

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