Jazz vocalist Maria Marquez doesn't cross boundaries, she merges them into an exotic melange with her third release, Princesa de la Naturaleza (Nature's Princess), a musical portrait of her native Venezuela. Forming a bridge between the ancient and new and spanning a cultural landscape, Marquez's unique sound is imprinted in the original compositions and jazz arrangements of traditional Latin American boleros, poems and legends. They come to life in lush orchestrations and minimalist small ensemble settings, the broad palette of feels and instrumentation creating the mood for her evocative storytelling. Maria's caressing voice is soothing and sensual, her lingering notes create subtle tension as they move with the dynamic tempo and feel changes, revealing fleeting glimpses of her expansive range as her throaty contralto gently washes over the melody. Space and simplicity mark her phrasing, the message is her medium as she articulately expresses a range of colours from wistful and lamenting to romantic and playful, delivering the lyric with honesty and clarity.
The performances are contributed by a host of master musicians featuring Gustavo Ovalles (Venezuelan percussion,) Kirk Joseph (sousaphone,) Rich Kuhns (keyboards, accordion,) and guitarist Robin Lewis, who also contributes arrangements for strings. Notable appearances include Cuban pianist/percussionist Omar Sosa, whose innovative multi-instrumental performance on "Alma Adentro" electrifies the inspired duo track; and percussionist John Santos, who contributes percussion arrangements and appears throughout the recording on an array of percussion also creates the environmental sounds & effects that give the album it's organic feel.
The first and title cut "Princesa de la Naturaleza" quickly introduces the idea of the diversity of instrumentation found throughout, with glockenspiel and steel drums joining accordion and a funky march-meets-samba feel to frame this composition by the artist. "Besame Mucho," the famous Consuelo Velazquez bolero, is a stunning reconstruct with Marquez taking a new dimension fusing Latin and New Orleans second-line feels, intertwining Hammond B-3 organ, the gypsy guitar, and a horn section to invoke the feel of Crescent City melding with a Latin spirit. Reed man Sheldon Brown (bass clarinet) wrenches the heart from the traditional Sephardic poem, "Adiyo Kerida," as Marquez delivers an aching performance of the ancient lovesong in Latino, modern voices coming together to bear the haunting message with the arrangement featuring sousaphone and Hammond B3. The delightful French flavoured "La Reina" takes a playful turn, with the Venzuelan contradanza articulated by an enchanting string section and Maria's voice floating effortlessly atop the cascading notes, her timber offering a tweedy texture to the classical chamber setting.
The ten tracks flow seamlessly together and offer surprising turns along the way, ever enticing one around the next corner to discover a new feel or harmonic sensibility changing the direction and tone. Maria Marquez paints melodious landscapes with her warm voice, bringing the instruments and feels of Latin and straight-ahead jazz traditions together in a loving embrace. Her Princesa de la Naturaleza is a musical ticket to paradise, a gentle, peaceful, and colourful journey through Latin America borne on the wings of jazz.