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Jackie Ryan: Recuerdos de Mi Madre (Open Art Productions)

Review of the vocalist's latest album, which offers new takes on classic Latin American songs

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Cover of Jackie Ryan album Recuerdos de Mi Madre
Cover of Jackie Ryan album Recuerdos de Mi Madre

Some singers play it cool. Whatever language she sings in, Jackie Ryan wears her heart on her sleeve. The multilingual San Francisco Bay Area vocalist has released a small but emotionally expansive discography that seamlessly weaves Brazilian, French, and Latin American and American Songbook standards into a Technicolor jazz tapestry. Her new bolero-centric album Recuerdos de Mi Madre might seem like a departure, but it’s actually a return home.

Dedicated to her Acapulco-raised mother, Recuerdos collects classic Latin American songs that served as a cultural lifeline to Mexico when Ryan was growing up in Marin County. Rather than transforming these standards into Latin jazz vehicles, Ryan focuses on wringing a lifetime of feeling out of classic songs. She’s joined by a stellar cast of Bay Area jazz musicians, including pianist/arranger Marco Diaz.

Special guest Paquito D’Rivera contributes on three tracks that frame the project, starting with Diaz’s dramatic arrangement of Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera’s “El Día Que Me Quieras.” Ryan luxuriates in the bolero setting while D’Rivera’s liquid clarinet seems to conjure the golden-hued past even as it fades. On Mexican composer Alberto Domínguez’s “Perfidia,” Diaz propels Ryan’s bitter, resigned indictment with a tango beat; D’Rivera, again on clarinet, serves as a foil. A searing salsa interpretation of “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” by Cuban songwriter Osvaldo Farrés closes the album, fueled by D’Rivera’s alto sax.

If Ryan doesn’t wander far off the beaten path on Recuerdos, she keeps changing up the textures, as with Paraguayan violinist Carlos Reyes’ searing accompaniment on Mexican songwriter Agustín Lara’s waltz “Noche de Ronda.” Besotted, heartbroken, and anything but bewildered, Ryan’s tribute to her mother and a golden age of Latin American music adds a new jewel to her glittering trove.

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Andrew Gilbert

Andrew Gilbert is a Berkeley-based freelancer who has written about arts and culture since 1989 for numerous publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, East Bay Express, Berkeleyside, and KQED’s California Report. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he experienced a series of mind-blowing epiphanies listening to jazz masters at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in the late 1980s, performances he remembers more vividly than the gigs he saw last month.