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Breathless ‘Dawn’: Magos Herrera & Javier Limón merge voice & Flamenco

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Magos & Limón · Dawn [June 3, 2014 OKeh]

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Magos Herrera is the Cassandra Wilson of Latin America. There are similarities in their warm, sultry tone, their bluesy feeling and strong command of the jazz language. Herrera is without a doubt the best jazz singer out of Mexico… —JazzTimes

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Some artists could put out a record of nursery rhymes and it’d go over like gangbusters. Mexican-born jazz vocalist Magos Herrera and Madrid-trained Flamenco guitarist/producer/composer Javier Limón possess that magical touch.

Separately, they’ve set the world on fire with their exquisite art form, kissed by cultural access.

Herrera is already a household name in Mexico City, with five hit albums there and a fiercely loyal fan following. Her sultry voice — if Joni Mitchell were so inclined — is fast captivating a new fan following in the States. Following studies in L.A.’s Musicians Institute and Boston’s New England Conservatory, and fame back in her homeland, Herrera pulled up stakes to make a home in the U.S. six years ago. Subsequent albums, especially 2009’s “Distancia” and 2010’s tribute to Mexico’s cinematic golden age of the 1930s-‘40s, “México Azul,” put her in good standing with critics and the general populace, internationally. In Mexico, she produced and appeared in two musical TV shows, and later in New York, she set up her own popular radio show, “La Vuelta a La Manzana,” featuring interviews with the latest, hottest jazz stars. Siempre Mujer, a major U.S. Latin magazine, named her one of 2011’s “10 Most Important Women” as a musical ambassador for contemporary Mexican music. First Lady Michelle Obama was on this same list.

Limón is more than a studied Flamenco guitarist and composer. His work with Latin artists garnered him the Latin Grammy for “Producer of the Year” in 2004, as well as one for Bebo Valdés for best “Traditional Tropical Album.” In 2003, Limón branched out from under other studio jurisdictions with his own record label, Casa Limón. Casa Limón’s releases revealed a facility with the many different languages of music, from the highly original debut, “Limón,” to “Son de Limón,” and “Mujeres de Agua,” with Portuguese vocalist Mariza, Spanish Flamenco singer Estrella Morente, Greek folk singer Eleftheria Arvanitaki, and Israeli singer-songwriter Yasmin Levy. Limón also hosts his own Spanish National TV shows, Entre dos Aguas and Los Oficios de la Cultura. Currently, he’s the artistic director of the Berklee College of Music’s Mediterranean Music Institute.

Bringing their respective, cultural sensibilities together was a no-brainer. “Something that we share is that we do believe that music can be inclusive. So this means that you can have a Latin jazz singer singing with a Flamenco guitar player,” Herrera said of the exciting new collaboration. “It’s been an incredible learning experience to see how he works as a producer, and for me to share and be able to create new music together.”

Limón, in turn, found Herrera’s ease with the bi-lingual material — a fair mix of Latin and American covers and a few of their own compositions — simpatico and enervating. “I really appreciate a singer like Magos that has a great voice, great rhythm, and a great sense of musicality. She has a big heart with a lot of knowledge,” he said. “The album, if we have to choose just a few words, is about sound, about rhythm, about loneliness, about emptiness, about voice, heart, guitar, and silence.”

Set to drop on June 3, Magos & Limón’s OKeh Record lights on a wide variety of themes, moods, and song styles with their own indelibly classic signature. It’s as if they’ve performed together since time began.

Magos Herrera’s voice is lush, breaking away in parts that require sound bytes, yet smoothing away any edges. Javier Limón’s Flamenco guitar — along with the bounces and the claps familiar with a Spanish flair — enunciates her shades of light, steering her formless shadows toward less-vague definition without breaking the mood. “Afro Blue” by Mongo Santamaria and Oscar Brown Jr. holds steady with the Flamenco slap-clap beats and the controlled fiery licks from Limón’s Flamenco, as Herrera puts an impossibly brisk yet lingering melodic hush over everything.

The Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael standard, “Skylark,” takes on an entirely different meaning under Herrera’s painstaking revisionist pause and glimpse… one of ponderous inquiry from far away, rather than simply lonely yearning. She switches up the tempo completely, to fit within Limón’s own rosy furls, her laughing Latin Joni Mitchell showing, if Mitchell could ever be dubbed happy.

Limón and Herrera wrote “My Love For You,” which is quite possibly the sexiest number ever. She doesn’t just surreptitiously sing the lyrics, she wraps herself around every dancing, trailing story of this hidden melody. A violin or cello stretches the boundaries of what seems to be a million variant harmonies slipping through the cracks, as if dying for release, Limón gently prodding the river of voices along with each truncated strum, Herrera exuding mindful seduction. When she hits the final notes of, “Take me, take me, take me,” breathless, it’s time to hit the sheets. Is it hot in here?

The songs in Latin are especially seductive, perhaps because Herrera feels a little more at home, a little more explicit. She’s enabled greatly by Limón’s Flamenco guitar, as it yelps and howls toward inevitable surrender. His solo in “O que tinha de ser” is absolutely unearthly in its staggering hard and soft, tense and yielding.

Under any other singer, Flamenco guitarist Limón might’ve felt overshadowed with the Bric-a-brac of stunningly unnecessary affectation — a problem with so much of American female jazz artists. But Herrera knows how to use her voice to get underneath the notes and coax them loose. Her undulating vocal pulses seem to feed the bearings of his taut instrumental reflexes just right. This is one sexy album. My oh my.

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