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Kat Parra: Birds in Flight

Seven years ago, Kat Parra’s “Birds in Flight,” an eyes-wide-open treatise on post-breakup resilience and recovery, earned top prize in the Latin-Jazz category at the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Now, wrapped in an appropriately buoyant salsa arrangement courtesy of trombonist Wayne Wallace, it is the centerpiece of the golden-voiced Californian’s inaugural disc. The track’s tender self-confidence speaks volumes about Parra, who survived a divorce at age 23 and, while raising two small sons, made the fortuitous decision to toss aside a year’s training in classical flute at UCLA and instead study what she naively considered the “easy instrument” of voice.

Parra quickly discovered how difficult a path she’d chosen but, mentored by Patti Cathcart (of Tuck & Patti fame), soon emerged with a multilingual (she sings in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Ladino) appreciation for pop, blues, soul and jazz. Such stylistic legerdemain serves her well throughout Birds in Flight as she effortlessly shifts from the gently rapturous romanticism of the self-penned “These Old Feelings” and dew-kissed warmth of “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” (reinvented with an unexpected but intriguing robustness) to the purple-dusk, Middle Eastern majesty of Ellington’s “Caravan” and whirling intensity of the 16th-century Sephardic anthem “Kuando el Rey Nimrod.” It all adds up to a most propitious debut.

Originally Published