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New Directions: New Directions

Isis, a Cuban-born Arturo Sandoval discovery now living and working in Miami, may have a lovely voice. It is, judging by her debut CD, New Directions (Pimienta), almost impossible to tell, thanks to an assortment of overcooked arrangements by pianist Doug Bikel that sound like leftovers from an Eydie Gorme guest spot on The Andy Williams Show. Working alongside peerless pros like Sandoval and Ed Calle, Isis fights so hard to be heard above Bikel’s cacophony that she too often resorts to shouting. (It’s like that old joke about Ethel Merman belting her way through “Whispering.”) What presumably could have been beautifully tempered renditions of “Misty” and “Tenderly” are, out of necessity, delivered without a hint of mistiness or tenderness. (Admittedly, Bikel manages to tone things down on “Summertime,” with significantly improved results.) The album does, however, feature one special moment when the smoke clears and Isis’ natural talent is allowed to shine. Eliseo Grenet’s gorgeous “Drume Negrita,” one of five Spanish-language tracks included here, comes cushioned in a velvety arrangement that is refreshingly apropos. Interestingly enough, it’s the one arrangement written not by Bikel but by Sandoval himself.

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