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Kat Parra: Songbook of the Americas

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Born in California, partially raised in Chile and deeply immersed in world music with particular emphasis on Latin and Afro-Cuban influences, vocalist Kat Parra is arguably the ideal ambassador to map a musical tour of the Americas. Though she bypasses the far North (no Canadian songwriters or musicians), her transcontinental journey is impressively expansive. Its rhythmic panoply favors the Southern Hemisphere, covering mambo, cha-cha, bossa nova, landó, tango and zamacueca, with one nod to American-style swing. The phalanx of musicians and special guests is just as cross-culturally diverse, with two-dozen players weaving in and out of the 11 tracks, anchored by pianist Murray Low. The cross-section of composers and lyricists is more evenly weighted: Americans Charlie Parker, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Betty Carter, Bob Merrill, Meredith Willson and Parra herself, balanced by Peru’s Chabuca Granda, Cuba’s María Teresa Vera, Argentina’s María Elena Walsh, Mexico’s Consuelo Velázquez and Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral.

From the slow burn of “Bésame Mucho” and rising ardor of Walsh’s “Como la Cigarra” (featuring Venezuelan singer Maria Márquez) to the fiery swirl of the Mistral-inspired “Dame la Mano,” the heat is intense. Even Willson’s misty “Till There Was You,” where Parra is paired with San Francisco vocalist Nate Pruitt, and Merrill’s zany “Mambo Italiano” are dazzlingly emblazed. The flames subside just once, on Parra’s “Dare to Dream,” a shimmering vocal union with Tuck & Patti propelled solely by Tuck Andress’ mellow guitar.

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