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  • Jonathan Widran

MAGELA HERRERA, Explicaciones

“Explicaciones,” the title track to Magela Herrera’s jazzily exotic debut album, begins with a haunting, hypnotic percussion and flute dance before breezing into her warm, intimate lead vocal, sung in the Cuban born flutist, composer and singer’s native Spanish. The song arrives midway through the collection, but its story and spirit offer the perfect introduction to and “explanation” of the artist’s extraordinary musical life leading up to this release.

Praised often for her unique background that includes Latin and European jazz and Afro-Cuban traditions, Magela developed her multitude of musical gifts in a supporting role as a member of Mezcla, one of Cuba’s leading jazz and fusion groups, from 2004 to 2011. During this time, she was nominated for a Best of Latin Jazz Award from the NY based magazine Jazz Corner for her daring flute improvisations on the band’s I’ll See You in Cuba album.

A major turning point came during her time at the Norwegian Academy of Music, where she learned about jazz improvisation and freer forms of expression – much different from the forms she learned while studying classical music at the Conservatory of Music in her native Havana. Another major influence has been her immersion these past two years in the jazz, funk and electronica scenes of her newly adopted hometown of Miami.

On Explicaciones, Magela applies that sense of freedom and musical spontaneity to classic Cuban tunes and her enticing originals with her quartet featuring pianist Tal Cohen, guitarist Greg Diamond and drummer David Chiverton.

The album’s eight tracks sway, seduce, roll and rumble like an eye and ear popping tapestry of Magela’s life. She named the freewheeling ensemble jam “Two Sidewalks” to reflect her sizzling merger of Norwegian Jazz and the zesty rhythms of Miami. Her deft arrangement of the Cuban classic (and childhood favorite) “Que Te Pedi” is dreamy and whimsical at the start before Magela breathes some high octane flute fire into the mix.

Another very personal song is the ballad “Danzon Para Papa,” a dedication to her father who encouraged Magela to stay true to her Cuban roots.

Magela balances feisty tunes like “Ahora” (which truly embraces the power of “Now”) with more elegant expressions like “Besame Mucho,” whose rhythm is classic Cuban guagua. The artist’s penchant for taking listeners on unexpected adventures is captured on her approach to “My One and Only Love,” which delightfully shifts the tempo upward halfway through, giving rise to one of her most memorable flute improvisations.

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