Aire - 5:27
Gracias a la Vida - 5:16
The Calling - 5:44
Choro de Lua - 5:34
Alfonsina y el Mar - 5:06
Passarinhadeira - 3:20
Obra Filhia - 3:42
Remanso - 4:31
Papalote Intro - 1:14
Papalote - 3:58
Samba Em Preludio - 4:29
Healer - 5:27
Magos Herrera - vocals
Ingrid Jensen - trumpet - fluegelhorn
Dori Caymmi - voice
Vinicius Gomes - acoustic guitar
Sam Minaie - bass
Alex Kautz - drums, percussion
Gonzalo Grau - chekere, cajon, palmas, jaleos, djembe, cajon
The work of an artist often suggests that of an alchemist. In her new album, Aire, Mexican singer and composer Magos Herrera transformed the grief, fears, and loneliness of a deadly plague into a luminous collection of songs representing "a celebration of our humanity and the healing power of music."
"We have been dealing with something we didn't see coming and was beyond anything we could've imagined," she says. "But in the process, we found ourselves facing our vulnerability — and, in that, rediscovering our humanity. That's why this album is unique to me. As we come out of the pandemic, we are not only reconnecting with each other but discovering a new world, too, and we need to find a new way to live in it."
Aire (Air) features twelve songs and includes her new compositions, commissioned by Chamber Music America's New Jazz Works, and jewels from the Great Latin American Songbook, such as "Alfonsina y el Mar" and "Gracias a la Vida." Those two classics suggest bookends of the experience in Aire, "Alfonsina …" as an acknowledgment of impermanence and death, "Gracias a la Vida" as a prayer of gratitude for the many gifts of life.
But for two exceptions — the voice and guitar duo of "Passarinhadeira" and the octet reading of the Vinicius de Moraes and Baden Powell's classic "Samba em Preludio"—Magos sings over a musical canvas provided by her jazz trio augmented by a 21-piece orchestra under the artistic direction of Eric and Colin Jacobsen, formerly of the string quartet Brooklyn Rider and current Co-Artistic Directors of the Brooklyn-based orchestral collective The Knights.
The arrangements in Aire are by three long-time Magos collaborators. While coming from different places, they share an extraordinary fluency in various musical languages and traditions. Venezuelan multi-instrumentalist Gonzalo Grau arranged "The Calling," "Aire," and "Healer;" Brazilian cellist, arranger, and conductor Jaques Morelenbaum elegantly framed "Samba em Preludio," and Argentine pianist and composer Diego Schissi contributed "Choro de Lua," "Papalote," "Remanso," "Alfonsina y el Mar," "Obra Filhia," and "Gracias a la Vida."
"Choro de Lua" and the delightful "Papalote" (Kite), two highlights of the album, are songs by Magos written for her niece and nephew, respectively, and featuring wordless vocals.
"'Choro de Lua' is about this feeling of hope, purity, and innocence," she says." And 'Papalote' is my snapshot of this kid, discovering small things about life in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of something truly tragic. In such hard times, they reminded me of these spaces of humanity and beauty that connect us with something essential. That's why rather than adding lyrics, I preferred to let melodies and harmonies tell the story."
In Aire, Magos sings in Spanish, Portuguese, and English and embraces her life as a musician immigrant in New York by opening her work to various musical traditions. Ingrid Jensen, one of the most distinctive, gifted players in contemporary jazz, adds her elegiac tone on trumpet and flugelhorn to "Remanso" and "Gracias a la Vida." Brazilian singer and composer Dori Caymmi contributes his rich voice and uncanny storytelling sense to "Samba em Preludio." "It's fantastic to have Dori in this project. He is part of the great lineage of Brazilian song," says Magos.
And then, there is the anchoring presence of Magos' Mexican roots, even as she addresses universal themes. In "Healer," one of the centerpieces of the album, she not only pays tribute to the late Maria Sabina, a legendary Mexican chamana (shaman) but celebrates "music as a healer, music as a place where we can come together, find our deepest selves and heal."
Immersing the listener in the experience, Magos opens the song with a stunning sampling of Maria Sabina singing at a healing session.
"As a singer, I have a very close relationship with the voice, and the voice is breath, and breath is life," says Magos. "Maria Sabina used to heal with herbs and peyote, but also with the voice. Such is the power of the voice. So when a friend sent me this recording of Maria Sabina singing as she is healing, I felt it would be important to hear her singing in a composition honoring her."
Herrera, who settled in New York City in 2008, is an elegant and daring singer. Throughout her career, she has engaged in intriguing and diverse musical pursuits, a testament to her talent and flexibility as an artist. Her most recent recordings include a featured appearance on Venezuelan pianist Edward Simon’s Feminina (to be released in June 2023), and collaborations with Paola Prestini (Con Alma, 2020), and the string quartet Brooklyn Rider (Dreamers, 2018). Her discography also includes a jazz album of original songs (Distancia, 2009), a tribute to Mexican composers from the 1930s and 40s (Mexico Azul, 2011), and a collaboration with flamenco producer and guitarist Javier Limón (Dawn, 2014).
Aire "became a way to reach out," says Magos, who wrote much of her music in the album during isolation. "We're here, we're alive, and we can heal each other by coming together and celebrating our humanity with compassion and gratitude."