Following up on her acclaimed recording Mi Bossa Nova, vocalist Carmen Cuesta returns home to Spain, both physically and spiritually, to embrace the enduring magic of the bolero on her soulful and sensual new masterwork Toda Una Vida (Tweety Records, January 28, 2014 release).
Tapping into the wealth of classic pieces from Spain and South America, that have become over the years the Spanish equivalent of the Great American Songbook, the singer and her husband, guitarist/producer Chuck Loeb, join forces with renowned Madrid based musicians to create a masterful collection that truly encompasses Toda Una Vida. The album title is a nod to the bolero being a style of music that Cuesta has heard “all her life,” which she believes is an important part of world music history. It is also an acknowledgement of the rich lifetime and musical partnership she has shared, for several decades now, with Loeb. The 12-track set was recorded in Madrid and produced by Loeb, Cuesta, and popular Spanish music producer Paco Ortega.
Cuesta and Loeb first met Ortega at a concert in Madrid, where they were performing music from Mi Bossa Nova, Cuesta’s 2011 album featuring lush interpretations of classic bossa tunes by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes, Luiz Bonfa, and other greats. Impressed with what he heard, Ortega invited them to record at his Musigrama Studios. Some months later, during an impromptu get-together with a vocalist friend, Carmen rediscovered the beauty and timelessness of boleros, and the idea of recording a CD of these classics was born. Over the next year Carmen began to explore the vast repertoire of boleros, finally deciding on the selections she would include on her project.
Cuesta grew up in Madrid, so many of the songs they considered were familiar to her. Loeb, on the other hand, was only familiar with the more popular tunes like “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” and “Besame Mucho,” but as a lifelong “harmony addict,” he immediately saw the jazzy possibilities the bolero standards offered. They worked out a batch of basic arrangements in their home studio and, feeling that Spanish musicians would lend a deeper authenticity, they contacted Ortega and asked him about gathering some of Madrid’s best musicians and set a recording date for the project.
“Collaborating with Chuck allowed me to take them into a slightly different dimension, a new approach,” she adds. “Instead of the traditional renderings, we worked hard to create a sophisticated jazz-influenced sound. The interpretations that evolved were softer, and more intimate than most listeners are used to. The key to making them work this way was in their intricate re-harmonization, and the players instinctively gave us that extra richness we knew they had to have.
Toda Una Vida evolved gracefully from there, with Cuesta and Loeb’s vocal and jazz guitar foundation complemented seamlessly by the extraordinary talents of Uruguayan drummer Jose San Martin, bassist Antonio “Toño” Miguel, pianist Moises P. Sanchez (both from Madrid) and Cuban born percussionist Yuvisney Aguilar. Other participants include Antonio Serrano (who adds his lush harmonica flavor to “Contigo Aprendi”), Kike Perdomo (flute on “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas”) and Oli Rockberger (piano on the title track “Todo Una Vida”).
“It was wonderful to work with these great musicians,” Cuesta says, “because all of them were open to experiment with us as we took them beyond their usual arrangements. Rather than come in with any preconceived notions, they were willing to contribute something special to these songs, and go further to explore the beauty of what they are. It was like re-polishing raw diamonds.
“Although I first heard these songs as a child, and then throughout my whole life, they were there in the background, but I never even knew all of the lyrics. Creating Toda Una Vida was an opportunity for me, not only to get to know them better, but also to give them my own personal interpretation.”
In addition to the very familiar “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” and “Besame Mucho,” the songs on Toda Una Vida include “Voy A Apagar La Luz,” “Contigo Aprendi,” “El Reloj,” “La Puerta,” “El Dia Que Me Quieras,” “No Te Confundas” (an original), “Dos Gardenias,” “Como Fue” and “Toda Una Vida.” Providing a bit of continuity from her last album, Cuesta also includes a Jobim-penned bossa nova called “Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar.”
“While I am sure native Spanish speakers will hear the words of these songs and know precisely what they mean, I am hoping that non-native speakers will respond to them the way I responded to the Beatles when I first heard them growing up,” she says. “I didn’t understand the words, but the songs gave me pleasure and comfort and I loved them. Sometimes it works well emotionally for people not to know precisely what the words mean, so that they can relax, enjoy, and use their imagination to create personal meanings out of the songs for themselves. I believe people will connect with these songs even if they don’t know the meaning of the lyrics I am singing.”
Amidst the beautiful CD packaging that includes a cover design by Cuesta and Loeb’s daughter Lizzy and artwork and graphics by Kevin Axt, Cuesta includes a beautiful quote that reads in part: “Because there is nothing that unites us more than a song that stays in our ear, or music that evokes memories…the best moments of our lives.” Cuesta’s longtime fans, and those newer to her rich vocal imagination, can listen to and enjoy her latest work, and use it as an entry point to the world of the bolero.
A member of church and school choirs while growing up in Madrid, Carmen Cuesta was singing, writing and playing guitar by the age of 15 and soon after, found herself recording and performing while pursuing her degree in education at the University of Madrid. She auditioned for and then joined the cast of “Godspell,” playing Mary Magdalena. Her work as a performing artist and studio singer flourished as she pursued a solo career as a singer and songwriter. Jazz became part of her musical world as well when she began collaborating with some of Madrid’s top musicians at the time. While her heart was in music and theatre, she also appeared in a film and went on a six-month trip to London to study dance and English. She met Loeb in Madrid while performing in a major production at the Teatro Monumental, and within months relocated to New York City – a move that completely changed her life and richly expanded her musical horizons. She became a part of pianist Andy LaVerne’s group Paradise, which featured her singing tunes composed by her and LaVerne; the band also featured bassist Mark Egan and drummer Danny Gottlieb, who were in Pat Metheny’s group at the time. When Loeb ended his many years playing with saxophone legend Stan Getz, he and Cuesta formed their first group together, Paralelo, which blended jazz, pop, rock and Latin music. The group performed and recorded for many years in and around NYC. After a stint co-hosting the television talk magazine show Imagenes for SIN (the largest Spanish speaking network in the U.S.), she gave up her career endeavors completely to devote time her children, Christina and Lizzy, who were born in the mid-80s, and to earn a bachelors degree in English Arts.
As the girls got older, Cuesta began collaborating with many of the jazz musicians she met through Loeb; she wrote and recorded with everyone from Earl Klugh to Grover Washington, Jr., Michael Franks, Peabo Bryson, and Spyro Gyra, among others. In the mid-90s, she launched her solo recording career, debuting in 1996 with One Kiss. Her other CDs include Peace of Mind (featuring Bob James), Dreams (with Michael Brecker and John Patitucci) and You Still Don’t Know Me. A series of concerts in 2006 rekindled her passion for Brazilian music that evolved into the Mi Bossa Nova CD, which received widespread attention, critical acclaim (including features on NPR and PRI/The World) and enjoyed several weeks at the # 1 position on the Billboard and iTunes Latin Jazz charts, as well as heavy radio rotation across America.
“It is exciting to be continuing my path as a solo artist with a project like Toda Una Vida that means so much to me, and has brought me so much joy,” Cuesta says. “With the help of Chuck and all these incredible musicians and engineers, I feel as though I am bringing treasures to light, especially to those listeners that may not know these songs yet. Simply by listening they will keep them alive, and hopefully enjoy them for the timeless works they are.”