Telling a story in song does not require words. Of course, if you are a singer, you might then need an exceptional vocal instrument, imagination, and a willingness to walk on tightropes — all of which brings us to Uruguayan-born singer and composer Sabrina Lastman.
In The Candombe Jazz Sessions, Sabrina tells her story in different ways, summoning a variety of approaches and music styles. Singing in both Spanish and Portuguese, sometimes she puts music to her own words, sometimes she borrows poems, or remakes someone’s song. Words or not, throughout, she lets the sounds of her voice, and her daring, tell the story.
“This recording is a bit eclectic because, well, my tastes are eclectic,” she says. “Besides, a record is just a snapshot of an artist at a certain moment. This one sums up what I’ve been doing and what I’d like to do — singing great songs, writing, exploring sound with wordless vocal music, and doing experimental work.”
As for being a storyteller or, for lack of a better term, a vocal instrumentalist, “I have a need for both,” she explains. “The text helps me write and in certain instances it provides inspiration. But I’ve found great freedom in wordless singing and exploring sound, so what I aim to do is to balance both approaches.”
Born in Montevideo, where she studied classical singing and piano, Sabrina migrated as a young woman to Israel (where she studied in the jazz program at the The Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance) before settling in New York. It should be hardly a surprise then that her points of reference as an artist are diverse. She cites Meredith Monk as a decisive influence (and Sabrina’s interdisciplinary work and interest in extended vocal techniques speak to that), but also British singer and lyricist Norma Winstone, Argentine folk singer Mercedes Sosa, and Brazilian singer and songwriter João Bosco. Stylistically, she draws from a broad range of sources, including contemporary classical music, jazz and Third Stream, but also Brazilian music. And as happens to many artists after leaving their home countries, time and distance inspired Sabrina to reassess her own culture in general, and Afro-Uruguayan candombe in particular.
The process had started in Israel where she was member of a trio that played tango and candombe. Then “New York made me to look at what I had to say, take a moment to look at where I came from, what was my story, and what did I have to offer,” she recalls. And in exploring candombe, she also found “a desire to do original work, experiment with the vocal sound and truly express myself.”
Artists such as singer, composer and percussionist Rubén Rada and the Trio Opa, which recorded in the United States in the late ’70s, had paved the way with their candombe-jazz fusions. Furthermore, Rada’s singing, which often included his own, idiosyncratic vocalizing, connected the dots between candombe, jazz and extended vocal techniques.
Accompanied by her working quartet — Emilio Solla (piano and arrangements), Pablo Aslan (bass), and David Silliman (drums and percussion) – augmented by several guests, in The Candombe Jazz Sessions Sabrina offers a glimpse of what has been her concert program. The logic is simple, she says.
“Live shows are great indicators of what works and what doesn’t,” she explains. “So except for a couple of songs, such as Circular, which we only played a couple of times, or Cilada Verbal [Verbal Ambush], this has been our repertoire for awhile. I thought it made sense to present in this recording music that had been worked on and had a history for us.”
Axis, which opens by improbably evoking Steve Reich, is a wordless original that sets the adventurous tone. Not all the tracks in this recording are candombe-related, however. (In fact, only five of the ten tracks show the influence of this music. Consider the title musical-poetic license.) But there is a delightful, fuller representation of the candombe sound in Sabrina’s version of Rada’s Tengo un Candombe para Gardel [I Have a Candombe for Gardel], which features a cuerda de tambores (basically, a three-drum section). Listen for the bright, playful opening and the contrast between Sabrina’s clean, pure-toned singing floating over the forceful, street-wise drumming.
But in fact, The Candombe Jazz Sessions has many pleasures — consider the ambitious Circular in which, in a short piece, Sabrina brings together her interest in singing texts but also exploring pure sound; or her reading of Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer Egberto Gismonti’s Agua e Vinho [Water and Wine]. There is also the striking interpretation of Zea Mais [Corn], originally a slow-paced, lullaby-like song by Silvia Segundo, a member of the Uruguayan group Berta Pereira & Las Comadres; the small but effective string arrangement in Sabrina’s take on Uruguayan poet Washington Benavides’ Color de Arena [Color of Sand]; and the smart improvisation in A lo Lejos [From Far Away], a four-way conversation between Sabrina, trumpeter Alex Norris, Aslan and Silliman, leading into a wordless workout over a candombe-jazz groove.
Her own Deep Inside, which goes back and forth between jazz and candombe, gives way to Cilada Verbal, a solo piece in which Sabrina gives voice to a work by Brazilian poet Affonso Romano de Sant’Anna. Here, she brings together her talents as storyteller and vocal instrumentalist. The result is voice, text, and sound, unadorned, full of possibilities, a snapshot of an artist taking chances without a net — a fitting closing to this recording.
Telling a story in song does not only require words.
- Fernando Gonzalez www.fgonow.com