Vocalist and Composer Kat Parra Returns with Her New Ensemble, the Sephardic Music Experience in Dos Amantes
* Featuring special guests Jason McGuire, guitar; Ravi Gutala, tablas; and members of the Temple Sinai Choir of Oakland *
“… a moveable feast of Latin styles... [Her vocals are] beautifully shaped; her grasp of [the] archaic Judeo-Spanish style is remarkable.” — Philip Van Vleck, Billboard Review
“… an exceptional world-music ambassador… an album [Azucar de Amor] about hope and, by extension, music's role as a universally uniting force.” — Chris Loudon, JazzTimes
“Parra isn't content with tried and true formulas. Since the release of her impressive 2006 debut she's been creating an ambitious, often unexpected, repertoire. Parra possesses a voice with personality and soul.” — Andrew Gilbert, NPR’s “California Report”
Three years ago Kat Parra quit her job as a graphic designer at Cisco Systems, Inc. to pursue her passion for music and she’s never looked back. Since then the award-winning composer has released two critically acclaimed CDs on the Patois label, been invited to perform in Brazil and Mexico as well as top-tier venues throughout the United States, earned the designation “Best Latin Jazz Vocalist of 2008” by Latin Jazz Corner, and received a 2008 nomination for “Latin Jazz Album of the Year” from the Jazz Journalists Association.
“After having successfully raised two children as a single parent, I felt it was time to finally pursue my dream of being a full-time musician,” says Parra. “I came to realize I didn't want to die wondering ‘what if...? Music has always been an integral part of my identity, but after receiving my Bachelor of Music degree I knew that as a single parent my financial circumstances would not allow me to focus all my attention on a full-time music career. As I raised my children I performed with various bands of many different genres, which allowed me to hone my vocal skills as well as my stage presence. It was an audition for Cirque Du Soleil in 2005 that made me realize the possibility of my dream. Once my youngest son was finished with college I was able to take the leap of faith and dive head first into this new adventure. Nov. 3, 2006 was my last day in corporate America and I've never been happier!”
Parra explores her roots on her third CD Dos Amantes, a disc devoted entirely to songs of the Sephardic Jews. “I have always been proud of my Jewish heritage — the history and the tenacity to survive — but it wasn’t something I easily shared with others,” she says. “Learning about my connection to the Sephardic Jews has given me even more reason to be proud of who I am.”
The history of the Sephardic Jews starts in the heart of the Iberian Peninsula. Beginning in the early eighth century, Spain was a multi-cultural society where Jews, Muslims, and Christians co-existed in relative peace for nearly 800 years. After their expulsion in 1492, Sephardic Jews found refuge in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire. They also traveled to the New World with conquistadors and settlers from Holland, Spain and Portugal. Thus, like ripples in a pond, the Sephardic Jewish Diaspora spread ever outward, and in their music, we hear all the streams that flowed together to form their unique musical language.
In addition to singing fluently in English, Spanish and Portuguese, Parra has the rare ability to sing in the dying language of Ladino, or Judeo-Espanyol, which enables her to interpret this music faithfully. “This is the language of the Spanish Jews, an antiquated form of Castilian that also includes words from Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish and many other languages. It is an amalgamation of the Sephardic Diaspora, and it is my small way of helping to preserve this language. It is still spoken, but in very few places and mainly by the older generations in Turkey, Israel and in homes across the globe.”
Dos Amantes, which means “two loves” in Ladino and Spanish, fuses the flavor of Sephardic music with the sounds and colors of contemporary Latin jazz, a genre that shares many of the same cultural streams. The disc features sparkling arrangements by Latin jazz heavyweights Murray Low, Wayne Wallace, David Pinto (Susana Baca), and Oscar Stagnaro (Paquito D’Rivera). On her previous CDs (Birds in Flight and Azucar de Amor), Parra included Sephardic repertoire that delighted critics and jazz fans alike. Upon being awarded a Zellerbach Family Foundation Grant, Parra was able to take the work of her new ensemble – The Sephardic Music Experience – to the next level, resulting in Dos Amantes’ groundbreaking explorations.
As on her previous CDs, Parra teamed up with producer Wayne Wallace, a major player on the Bay-area Latin jazz scene. In addition, Patti Cathcart Andress (Tuck & Patti) lent her expertise to this project as a consultant after becoming enamored with this music’s unique beauty.
Dos Amantes will be released January 12, 2010 on Jazzma Records, though a special holiday release will be available exclusively through CD Baby in time for Hanukkah.
Parra’s ace ensemble consists of Murray Low (keyboards, music director); Peter Barshay (acoustic bass); Paul van Wageningen (drums); Katja Cooper (percussion); Masaru Koga (flute) and Stephanie Antoine, (violin). Latin jazz stalwart Low provides five of the ten ingenious arrangements here, including the dance-worthy opening track Los Bilbilicos, which shows Parra’s uncanny capacity to use her voice as another instrument in the ensemble. With David Pinto’s thrilling flamenco arrangement of En La Mar, we enter another realm of the Sephardic music spectrum with Jason McGuire’s fiery guitar playing accompanied by energetic palmas. Parra finds a different voice for this song, reaching into her lower range for a tone that is earthy and full of ardor. Oscar Stagnaro’s moving arrangement of Fiestaremos features members of the Temple Sinai Choir of Oakland, CA as well as a wonderful bass solo by Barshay. Dos Amantes, a tale of a girl choosing between two loves, is arranged by Wallace and features his signature style: intricate ensemble writing and colorful instrumentation layered over an irrepressible groove. Special guests Lila Sklar (violin) and Michaelle Goerlitz (percussion) really shine here, while Koga takes one of countless glittering solos. Low’s gorgeous treatment of the lullaby A La Nana is a standout moment on this disc, highlighting Parra’s crystalline upper range. What begins as an ethereal entreaty segues into a gently swinging bossa nova that also features ensemble violinist Antoine in beautiful dialog with Parra’s exquisite vocals.
Tres Hermanicas is a fairytale about a sister who goes astray but finds love anyway; Pintos’ artful arrangement begins solely with Parra singing over colorful percussion, gradually opening up to include the rest of the ensemble. Midway through, Parra takes a breathtaking solo. The good-natured drinking song La Vida Do Por El Raki is given a classic Latin jazz treatment by Wallace in which Parra exhorts the flute and violin to play for the party, giving rise to a virtuosic duo moment. The traditional song Una Matika De Ruda has a beguilingly serpentine melody that Low surrounds with a richly hued arrangement that features special guest Ravi Gutala on tablas. The wide scope of Parra’s vocal abilities is on display here as she covers this tricky melody by sinking into the depths of her low range as well as soaring to its heights. The disc’s closer, Hanukia, is an exuberant Hanukkah party song. The disc fades out on this festive note, concluding a journey that feels as wide-ranging and expansive as the journeys of the Sephardim themselves.