Denyce Graves – The Lost Days

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While it’s tempting to call acclaimed diva Denyce Graves’s exploration of Latin classical influences a crossover project, that label’s pop lightweight connotations don’t do justice to the powerful, often uncompromising performances contained herein. Indeed, Graves leans heavily on her collaborators (who include contemporary composers-arrangers-pianists Eliane Elias, Chucho Valdes and Jose Maria Vitier, as well as arranger-pianist Pablo Ziegler) for both material and stylistic inspiration, creating a collection that’s more concerned with true musical synthesis than it is with commercial exploitation. Eliane Elias composed “Haabia Tupi” specifically for Ms. Graves and made a special arrangement of the folk song “Estrela e lua nova” as well as “Can ao do poeto do seculo XVIII” for the project. These tracks feature Marc Johnson on bass, Satoshi Takeishi on drums and the cello virtuoso Borislav Strulev. Even the works of Latin classical standard-bearers like Argentina’s Carlos Guastavino, Brazil’s Villa-Lobos, and Tango master Astor Piazzolla are cast in stark, contemporary arrangements that underscore both Graves’s dramatic mezzo voice and the dusky, rhythmically charged dynamics of her quartet of confederates. If the listener is only familiar with the better-known Latin classical repertoire, this collection may open up some inviting new horizons.