By Marilyn Lester . . .
Lincoln Center’s long-running American Songbook series has dedicated this Spring season to “the significance of globalization in today’s music and the incredible exchange of cultures, American and beyond, that plays a part in music-making.” That box was assuredly ticked with Jaime Lozano’s Songs by an Immigrant. In a generous set, the songwriter presented an eclectic mix of his work, most from his album of the same name, a song-cycle of the challenges of the first – and second – generation newcomers to the USA, particularly in finding a new home, learning a new language, dealing with discrimination, pursuing the American Dream and searching for ways to build bridges.
Lozano is originally from Mexico and he knows whereof he speaks and writes. He arrived in this country in 2007 not speaking a word of English, which he’s now mastered with an accent as charming as his joyous personality. He has been lauded and applauded by Latin superstar Lin-Manuel Miranda (who was front and center in the sold-out audience) and rightly so. On vocals, piano, guitar and bajo quinto, Lozano demonstrated great versatility in genres, mood and lyric content of his work. The opener, “The Generic Immigrant Welcome Song” (lyric by Noemi de la Puente), Javier Ignacio delivered lyrics that were witty and amusing, at the same time cutting into the heart of the problem of “haters.” Ignacio also offered “Hold Tight” (lyric by Mark-Eugene Garcia), a story song with a Latin “folk” feel, with great depth.
Much of the music of Songs by an Immigrant is mariachi style. There’s no mistaking the Latin base of the rhythm, but it’s quite different from the Afro-Cuban music much heard in the New York metro region, derived from drumming via the movement of the enslaved from Africa to the Caribbean to the US. Mariachi (also called Ranchero) is one of many rhythmic styles of Mexican music, evolving from European influences and indigenous peoples, with an emphasis on strings and brass. Hence, Lozano’s superb little big band was comprised of Agustín Uriburu on guitar and cello, Alberto Toro on reeds, Raúl Agraz on trumpet, Ruben Rodriguez on bass and acoustic bass, Joel Mateo on drums and Jonathan Gómez handling percussion. Their individual and collective sound was first rate, with the band playing tight and sharp.
A touching moment in the evening came with “Te Soñé,” words and music by Lozano, written expressly for Doreen Montalvo, who appeared on Broadway in In the Heights, and who died unexpectedly at age 56 two years ago. It was sung with great emotion by Shereen Pimentel, knocking it way out of the park. Lozano’s breadth of talent is wide; he’s a musical theatre director, composer, arranger, orchestrator and vocal coach in toto. He’s currently writing a musical and from it and Broadway’s Mauricio Martínez and Marina Pires (a frequent writing parter of Lozano’s) offered a Broadway-style “DJ Can You Hear?” (lyric by Nancy Cheser). A pop-based “My Father’s Name” (lyric by Georgie Castilla), was sung powerfully by Nicholas Edwards.
The riches of Songs by an Immigrant were many, full of depth and inspiration in addition to being completely entertaining. Also offering prodigious talents were wife Florencia Cuenca and Broadway’s Andréa Burns, among a cast who landed powerful deliveries in the belting style in favor among many today. Throughout the set, Lozano often referred to the musicians and singers, a group of diverse performers from Broadway and Off-Broadway, as his “familia.” He was also mindful to include the audience in that familia, as he gave his message of a greater awareness and inclusion for all people. It was only fitting that the evening end with “Familia” (lyric by Georgie Castilla) sung by Lozano, Martínez, Cuenca, Ignacio and Pimentel, with an energized hand-clapping audience joining in with sheer delight.
Photos: Kevin Yatarola