by Alix Cohen
Maria Alejandra Rodriguez emigrated to The United States in 2010 and has been in New York just a year. A successful entertainer in her native Venezuela, she’s just finding her footing here and still struggles with unsung English. The attractive performer is utterly charming on stage. Whether or not you understand foreign language lyrics, expression telegraphs mood/intent. It’s easy to believe she means every word. Sinuously dancing in place –imagine a hot gamine, or joining her accompanists on Cuatro (a small Venezuelan guitar), Rodriguez emanates warmth and openness.
A coltish, carbonated opening number is followed by her own hushed “Este afan.” Matthew Aronoff’s bass tiptoes on sand spreading wet sparkles beneath. John DiMartino’s piano is delicate, musing. The tune is soulful. It sways. Lyrics often push off with a little sob. Rodriguez scrunches her eyes and hums. Later we’re treated to a glimpse of melodic scat. More of this, please.
Other compositions by Rodriguez include, in part, the flirty, infatuated “Notas de Amor.” A hand goes to hip, fingers snap. Bass shyly swaggers. Piano executes a tinkling loop de loop. And “Esta ilusion me sienta bien,” which emerges with gypsy coloring. Rodriguez can quick-switch her voice from bright (not shouting) to whispery (without growing threadbare.) Enunciation is pristine. I’m dying to know what these are saying, however. Brief explanations would serve connection until the vocalist can sing a few more in English.
Luis Bonfá ‘s “Manhã de Carnaval” (“Morning of Carnival”) finds vibrato at home deep in the vocalist’s throat, yet lyric is not withheld, passion not contained. It’s intimate. DiMartino plays with artful touch, dark feel. Aronoff closes his eyes, purses his lips; eyebrows dance. A gifted musician and new to me, he contributes imagination, style, clarity and spirit to every song. Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Desafinado” is infectiously joyful. Rodriguez virtually bounces. Her arm shoots up, then beckons. Non verbal singing acts as epilogue.
Also familiar is Consuelo Velázquez’s “Bésame Mucho“ (“Kiss me a lot”.) DiMartino might just as well have a rose in his teeth. Rodriguez undulates. Though she makes it torchy rather than corny, this choice remains colored by cliché. The same can be said for a cha-cha rendition of “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas,” replete with wagging finger. New York is not an unsophisticated audience. These might be replaced with more Boleros and Bossas like the welcome “So tihna de ser con voce” and “Total Bolder.”
“Here it’s very hard,” she comments referring to New York, The United States, “but I’m very happy.”
Two songs in English (neither tinted Latin) showcase distinctive jazz phrasing. “When I Fall in Love” (Victor Young/ Edward Heyman) recalls Eartha Kitt. “I ever give, give, my heart…” she sings head thrown back, eyes closed, palm on chest.” DiMartino musically strolls. Rodriguez leans towards him as if seduced. Aronoff embraces his instrument and strokes. “Fly Me to The Moon” (Bart Howard) seems suddenly personal. We close with a pleasing, long-lined samba.
Maria Alejandra Rodriguez should have a wider audience. This evening was the kind of off-the-cuff presentation only good musicianship can carry off. To some extent, numbers were chosen in real time. A cell phone with lyrics should not, however, be utilized and flow could be better. Most important, the band/this kind of music cries out for percussion. Maybe next time.
Maria’s latest CD: maria alejandra is backed by a full band and entirely in Spanish. It’s lovely, even without much comprehension.
The vocalist on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/mariaalejandra2011/videos?sort=dd&view_as=subscriber&shelf_id=1&view=0
Photos by Frank Frasca
An Elegant Evening of Boleros, Brazilian, & Latin Jazz
Maria Alejandra Rodriguez- Vocals, Cuatro
John DiMartino-Piano; Matthew Aronoff-Bass
August 25, 2018
Club Bonafide 212 East 52nd Street—third floor
Club Bonafide is a casual venue with about 65 seats, good sound and sightlines and an attentive staff. The small plate menu is moderately priced. Drinks are generous.
“The club was founded in 2015 by musician Richard Bona and restaurateur Laurent Dantonio as a vehicle for reigniting openness both by doing away with exclusivity clauses and by looking to instill a more genre-blind booking. In this way, the club hopes to encourage a celebration of live music and an environment of collaboration that is crucial to building a scene.”