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New album from Magela Herrera

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    Posted: 25 Jan 2019 at 7:44am

For jazz musicians, it's not always a seamless transition between establishing oneself as an invaluable ensemble player and emerging as a solo artist with fresh, bold and exciting new concepts to add to the idiom. On her long-awaited debut album EXPLICACIONES, Cuban born vocalist, composer and flute virtuoso MAGELA HERRERA not only makes it look effortless, but also creates loads of sensual, vibrant, rhythmically diverse fun as she leads an ensemble of top Miami musicians through an eclectic mix of originals, jazz and Latin standards and traditional favorites from her home country.  
Praised often for her unique background that includes Latin jazz, Euro jazz and classic Afro-Cuban traditions, Herrera developed her incredible instincts and keen musical chops from 2004 through 2011 as a member of Mezcla - one of Cuba's leading jazz and fusion groups. Towards the end of her tenure in 2010, she was nominated for Best Solo Flute from the New York based magazine Jazz Corner for the tune "Quien tiene el ritmo" (who's got the rhythm) on Mezcla's album I'll See You in Cuba. The recording was also nominated for Best Album.
Over the years, Herrera has also shared the stage with an extensive list of acclaimed international artists, including Chucho Valdez, Roberto Garcia, Ruy Lopez Nussa, Barbara Dane, Ralph Alessis, Geir Lysne , Jan Eggum, Sverre Indris Joner and Hovedoen Social Club, Alejandro Vargas, Sanskriti Shrestha ,Oslo Chamber Orchestra, Eliel Lazo and The Cuban Funk Machine. She has also performed at the Oslo Jazz Festival, Oslo World Music Festival, Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Lunatos Festival (Toronto) and at various jazz clubs and venues worldwide.
Herrera's adventurous, confidence building road from holding court with Mezcla to her emergence as a solo performer and bandleader included living in Norway for a number of years, learning all about jazz improvisation and freer forms of musical expression while gigging there and earning Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in Jazz Performance from the Norwegian Academy of Music. This was a major shift in mindset from her early days studying classical music at the Conservatory of Music in her native Havana and earning her first Bachelor's degree in classical music from the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA).
"I honestly wanted to make an album much earlier in my career, but I was too shy, and I could never complete a tune," Herrera says. "At the time, I was limiting myself to Cuban music and hadn't really explored other styles. I consider my time in Norway to be my 'aha' moment. All my professors there were more into inspiring and pushing students to find our own sound, whatever genre it happened to be. They didn't force us to follow rules. I found it more comfortable to write music outside a strict pattern, to create whatever was in my head. On EXPLICACIONES, applying that freedom to classic Cuban tunes really helped me hone in on my sound as an artist."
Another major influence has been her relocation to Miami and immersion these past two years in the city's vibrant jazz, R&B/funk and electronica scenes. Gigging regularly at such venues as Le Chat Noir and Lagniappe House, Herrera has played everything from flamenco and Latin music to Afro-jazz and electronic music. She has played in ensembles and has led her own quartet and quintet, which regularly includes the musicians driving the dynamic, poly-rhythmic vibe of EXPLICACIONES - pianist TAL COHEN, guitarist GREG DIAMOND, drummer DAVID CHIVERTON, and bass players NESTOR DEL PRADO and DION KEITH KERR.
The album's eight tracks sway, seduce, rumble and roll like a colorful narrative of Herrera's life. She introduces her other-worldly and melodic flute playing on her first original, rambunctious ensemble jam "Two Sidewalks," which she named for the idea of two worlds colliding (Norwegian jazz with Miami's funky rhythms) that she expresses in the song. Her arrangement of the Cuban classic "Que Te Pedi" - which she first heard in early childhood - alternates between an elegant jazz trio flow featuring her dreamy, whimsical flute and a zestier tempo that allows her to create wild, soaring imaginings on her instrument. Reflecting on her life in Norway, "Principios" is a soulful, elegant ballad centered on the spirited interactions between her flute and flugelhornist JEAN CAZE.
The title track "Explicaciones" begins with a sparse percussion-flute dance and eases into Herrera's beautiful lead vocal, sung in her native Spanish. The roaring, eminently danceable original "Ahora" (Now) allows her band to kick it up in high gear. The flutist is particularly proud of this tune because it was one of the first tunes she wrote while studying in Norway. Its jazzy power gave her confidence that she had what it takes to be a jazz composer. Herrera follows this with an enchantingly exotic twist on the classic Latin ballad "Besame Mucho" that is grounded in Guaguancó one of her favorite Cuban rhythm patterns.
The flutist penned the dreamy and seductive ballad "Danzon Para Papa" as a tribute to her father who always urged her to play more Cuban music, even when she was performing in Norway. It's her way of saying 'I'm still Cuban!' Herrara wraps up the set with a sensual, deeply soulful yet angelic vocal presence on a warm, ultimately up-tempo version of "My One and Only Love," one of her all-time favorite standards. The gentler part of the tune features Greg Diamond's subtle guitar harmonies, while Cohen and Chiverton amp up the tempo to beautifully support one of her most playful flute solos.
Reflecting back on her multi-faceted musical journey, Herrera says, "My parents exposed me to all kinds of music and my mom told me that as a baby, I would wake up from my naps singing - which is why they enrolled me in music school. I can't recall just why I started playing the flute, but its sound and physical shape captured my attention. I love it because it's so close to the sound of the human voice, and back when I was too shy to sing, it was a way for me to bring out what was inside of me through air and my mouth. When I improvise, I feel that I am most connected to my inner voice."

Edited by js - 25 Jan 2019 at 7:44am
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