Magos Herrera's cool moves

The Mexican jazz singer comes to Scullers
By JON GARELICK  |  September 15, 2011


We like to say that live performance adds another dimension to music. Never was this more evident than in singer Magos Herrera's performance with her quartet at Scullers last night. Herrera has a powerful, deep contralto, and her command of the pop and folk of her native Mexico — as well as the music of the other Latin American countries — is incisive and swinging. But at Scullers, she added something to what we can already hear on her new México Azul (Sunnyside). She swayed from the hips, outlined the lyrics with her hands and long arms (she wore an elegant, long, dark sleeveless gown), or she'd sink deep into the words with her eyes closed, then emerge with a gentle smile. It might not sound like it from this description, but Herrera's style is actually understated. Sedate one moment, animated the next, she dives deep into the music and brings something back for the audience. When she flashes that smile, it's not a show-biz grin, but a reflection of what she's found, as if for the first time.

Herrera is a jazz singer, and she was playing with a great band — pianist Luis Perdomo and bassist Hans Glawischnig (from Miguel Zenón's quartet) and drummer Alex Kautz (a busy New York freelancer, and also Herrera's husband). México Azul focuses on the work of composers who lived and worked in Mexico from the '30s to the '50s. So there was "Azul," by the prolific songwriter, singer, and radio star Augustín Lara, and "Angelitos Negros," originally recorded by Pedro Infante for the 1948 film of that title — and later covered by, among others, Eartha Kitt and Cat Power. But she also "cheated" by including Jobim ("the composer who made me want to sing in the first place").

The band's arrangements were loose and exploratory, often with extended improvised codas, but always grounded in sure dance rhythms and song form. Herrera would sing a verse, Perdomo would solo, taking the tune into adjacent keys or chromatic filigree. And then back to Herrera, whose improvised lines would leap, pause, and then take off running. She sang in Spanish, Portuguese, and occasional English, but — whether you spoke the particular language or not — her meanings were always understood.

  Topics: Live Reviews , Music, Mexico, Luis Perdomo,  More more >
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