There’s no sense in calling Claudia Acuña’s Turning Pages a comeback. Just in the past two years she’s collaborated with heavyweights such as Henry Threadgill, Susie Ibarra, Elio Villafranca and Billy Childs (singing on the title track of his 2017 album Rebirth, a tune based on her composition). But this is the Chilean vocalist’s first album in a decade after releasing five widely heralded CDs in the aughts, projects that documented her central position in the wave of Latin American artists who brought so much creative energy to the New York scene around the turn of the century.
Turning Pages isn’t so much a comeback as a reintroduction to an artist who is stepping forward as a songwriter too. Working closely with Colombian-born string wizard, arranger, and producer Juancho Herrera (whose credits include collaborations with Lila Downs, Sofia Rei, and Marta Gomez), she co-composed five of the album’s nine tunes, including the graceful nuevo cancion-style “Aguita de Corazón” and the celebratory anthem “Hey,” both written with pianist Ray Angry. The other three co-writes are with Herrera, most memorably “Futuro,” a love song to her son.
Accompanied by a cadre of Chilean musicians, including the inventive percussionist Yayo Serka and keyboardist Pablo Vergara, Acuña imbues the lyrics with unbound emotion. She turns “But Beautiful” into a potent uptempo romp and offers an enthralling tribute to Abbey Lincoln with a tightly coiled version of Lincoln’s song “Bird Alone.” More than a return to form, Turning Pages seems to open a new chapter for Acuña, whose new music is a soul-baring reply to anyone who’s been wondering where she went.