Published in Jazz Improv, V. 4, No. 3 (12/2003)

Mayra Caridad Valdés, La Diosa del Mar, Jazzheads JH1141
Released 2002. Recorded in Toronto, Canada.
"Drume Negrita"; "Mambo Influenciado"; "Danza Ñáñiga"; "Bésame Mucho"; "Yemayá"; "Para Que Vuelvas"; "Billie's Bounce"; "Danzonete"; "Como Fue"; "Rezo Afrocubano".
Personnel: Mayra Caridad Valdés, voice; Tony Pérez, acoustic piano; Enrique Plá, drums, Jorge Reyes, bass; Irving Acao, tenor saxophone; Yaroldy Abreu, percussion; Luis Guerra, keyboard.

Review by Virginia A. Schaefer

Cuban singer Mayra Caridad Valdés has for over twenty years performed throughout the world as a soloist, as well as with groups that include the Cuban jazz ensemble Irakere, cofounded by her brother, renowned pianist Chucho Valdés. Reinforcing her expertise on the Cuban musical legacy is a degree in choral music from the National Art School of Cuba. In La Diosa del Mar, her debut recording as a leader, Mayra Valdés uses her supple alto voice to interpret a variety of music that encompasses Afro-Cuban jazz, bebop, traditional Cuban styles including danzon and bolero, and soulful balladry.

The disc title alludes to Yemayá, the goddess of the sea, a central figure in the Afro-Cuban religion santería. In the song "Yemayá", Valdés testifies to the power of the deity, rising in fervent invocation and then falling to low-pitched, vibrant supplication. A male chorus makes a repeated response to her call, and then the groove changes to uptempo bop and Valdés launches into scat. She skillfully wields her voice as a wordless instrument also on "Mambo Influenciado" (like Yemayá, composed by Chucho Valdés) and on "Billie's Bounce", where she scats in perfect unison with Irving Acao's tenor sax.

The introduction to "Danzonete" has a pop sound, with Luis Guerra adding synthesized orchestral background behind Valdés. Then, she swings into the lilting march of a Cuban danzon. The out chorus takes on a salsa sound, with Tony Pérez alternating montuno and jazz phrasing, while Valdés and the chorus trade off. "Como Fue" is a Cuban bolero, which Valdés performs in a sultry, tremulous fashion, while Pérez plays tasty jazz piano. Valdés's performance heats up in the last half-chorus, and the track finishes with a bit of mambo. "Rezo Afrocubano" creatively combines folkloric drumming and chant with Afro-Cuban jazz.

In "Drume Negrita", Valdés starts singing quietly behind the band, which features the percussion of Yaroldy Abreu and the piano of Pérez, who deftly slips in some bluesy fills. Then, as in "Yemayá", the tempo rallies and Valdés launches into call and response with the chorus, but here it's a more light-hearted, teasing conversation. "Danza Ñáñiga" is a gospel-tinged ballad, and on the gentler side, "Para Que Vuelvas" is a quiet and poetic 3/4-time song. Valdés interprets the standard love song "Bésame Mucho" as a stark statement of need, with Acao's sympathetic tenor weaving around her entreaty like a concerned friend.