The fourth recording from Eliana Cuevas opens with springing piano as played by Jeremy Ledbetter and seems to explode in several colorful directions at once. The vibrancy of “Estrellita,” the first track from Espejo, is electrifying and so is the Venezuelan-born, Toronto-based vocalist at the centre of it all.
Throughout her career, Cuevas has taken artistic risks. She worked with jazz and Latin groups, like Cruzao and the reggae outfit Tabarruk, for instance, and she toured with the Darren Sigesmund Sextet extensively. From her 2001 debut EP Cohesion to Tuesday’s release of Espejo, she has continued to set a high standard with her earnest and textured vocal tones.
But more than setting standards, Cuevas is adept at pushing limits. “If you don’t challenge yourself, art can get stale,” she says. “On my previous albums, the sound was very much focused on being able to reproduce the songs and arrangements lives. On this one, I wanted to do something unique for each piece, but we have still been able to adapt them live.”
That distinctiveness pushes through the aforementioned “Estrellita” and into “En Un Pedacito De Tu Corazón,” a supple and sensual piece that sounds like a sunset over wine country. Cuevas’ voice is warm and engaging, especially as her tones layer over Mark Kelso’s percussion. Ledbetter’s keys are again a steady presence.
Cuevas and her players, 20 of them in all, range easily from the hot fire of “Llegó” to the passionate “Lamento.” Nothing is lost along the way as Espejo shifts from reflection to reflection.
The gloriously scorching “El Tucusito” thrills with its pure speed, especially as Cuevas bounds all over her vocal range. Ledbetter’s piano matches her playfulness, shifting and pitching through a rollicking set of notes that pounce both above and below Cuevas’ spice-coated vocals.
Espejo, which means “mirror,” is about infinite possibilities in terms of the creative process, but it’s also a blistering record of Latin-infused music. Cuevas, who wrote all but one of the 10 compositions on the recording, is a talent and a half. She takes chances, but she also knows when to hold back. Her range is inspiring, her tone is deep, her fire is irrefutable, and her fourth record is a treat.
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