Jazz vocalists stand between contrasting aesthetics when they extensively incorporate Latin Jazz into their repertoire. Latin music relies strongly upon vocalists, both in dance music and Latin jazz. These vocals are generally sung in Spanish or Portuguese, and the lyrical flow alters significantly when translated into English. Even when a composer writes an original song in English over Latin rhythms, the language’s vocal emphasis sounds slightly askew to the rhythms. In addition, the traditional vocal phrasing established by legendary jazz singers distinctly contrasts the rhythmic language of Latin music. When jazz vocalists force traditional phrasing against Latin rhythms, the result often sounds corny and cliché. When singers try to adjust their rhythmic style without knowledge of clave, the result is often simply awkward phrasing. West Coast vocalist Irene skillfully tackles these issues on her release Summer Samba, by carefully treading between Latin Jazz and vocal traditions.
Extensive use of Brazilian Rhythms
Irene’s song choice displays a distinct affinity for Brazilian rhythms and composers. Jobim’s “One Note Samba” finds a genre-blending groove with a Cuban montuno over a Samba rhythm. Irene locks into the rhythm comfortably, subtly extending notes to add color. Saxophonist Scott Martin recalls Stan Getz’s tone and phrasing on “Summer Samba (So Nice),” filling the spaces between Irene’s interpretations. Irene enthusiastically sings through Jobim’s “Waters of March,” yet alters the melody too much. The band plays an awkward key change after the melody, which completes the track’s unbalanced feeling. “Sway” leans strongly towards a lounge setting, remaining anchored in Latin Jazz largely through the band’s swinging Bossa Nova. The band continues with a strong Samba feel on “The Constant Rain (Chove Chuva),” laying the foundation for Irene’s tricky rhythmic articulation on the melody. The group’s extensive use of Bossa Nova and Samba, and Irene’s vocal approaches in those styles, establishes a major quality in the album’s overall character
Slight Turns Towards Novelty
At some turns, Irene faces the downsides of combining jazz vocals with Latin rhythms. She sings Consuelo Velazquez’s “Besame Mucho” in Spanish, with a series of awkward phrasings and a slightly nasal tone. The band plays a ballroom version of bolero, firmly establishing the kitschy atmosphere. “Whatever Lola Wants” dives deeply into the lounge arena, lyrically calling upon outdated stereotypes. Irene revels in this approach; she stretches phrases, whispers, and fills the song with a calm sensuality. Once again, the band finds an appropriate groove in a ballroom bolero, heavily accented with bongos. Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs To Daddy” unapologetically presents blatant corniness. The band plays a solid ballroom tango, harkening back to the commercial Latin dance crazes of the fifties. Irene employs a variety of campy techniques here, ranging from a baby talk on the word “daddy” to the over articulation of words like “en-cha-la-da.” These tracks sit strangely on the album, sounding more like novelty tunes sandwiched between classic jazz interpretations.
Strong Vocal Jazz on Latinized Standards
Several songs reflect Irene’s strong ability to shape jazz and pop standards into Latin showcases. Irene smoothly floats the melody to Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face The Music and Dance” over a gentle Bossa Nova foundation. Her subdued vocal approach works well over this melody, inspiring several dynamic changes. Marco Tulio provides solid guitar support throughout the song, while Martin’s saxophone matches Irene’s melodic development. “Little Boat” references a smooth jazz feel at first, eventually falling into a more traditional Bossa Nova. Irene sings strong and confidently here, using a rhythmic approach and emphasizing phrases with the band. Irene presents a more commanding presence on “Pretty World,” altering the popular melody to fit firmly into the Brazilian feel. The uplifting harmony on “So Many Stars” supports Irene’s hopeful vocal sound. Pianist Alex Varden provides a melodic improvisation before Irene walks through the melody. These songs feature Irene perfectly, bringing out the many strong points of her vocal jazz background.
Firmly Traveling Between Traditions
Despite a few dips into the treacherous raven between the vocal jazz and Latin Jazz history, Irene pays respect to both traditions with a well-constructed repertoire on Summer Samba. She maintains her personal vocal style throughout the album, presenting a musical identity strongly informed by Frank Sinatra and Diana Krall. Her song choice reveals a more conscious study of jazz standards than Latin music, but the application of flexible formats such as Bossa Nova and Bolero give her the space to phrase freely. In a sense, the use of these styles allow for the use of English throughout the album, with little rhythmic or melodic manipulation. Her band builds the bridge into the Brazilian and Cuban rhythmic traditions included on each track, providing studied, yet subdued, interpretations of each style. The combination of the Irene’s distinct vocal approach and her band’s knowledgeable support results in an enjoyable album that walks firmly between dual traditions.