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For her debut recording, Philadelphia's Venissa Santi is well aware of her Latin heritage and love of jazz. Born in Ithaca, NY of parentage connected to Havana, Cuba, she sings lyrics in either English or Spanish depending on the origin of the piece, mixing and matching these styles while expanding her repertoire beyond standard fare. Traditional Cuban music is included, as well as two American popular songs, a blues, songs from obscure Latin composers, and two of her own compositions. Santi has a cute, girlish voice surrounded by personality that can belt out complex melodies, sing softly or wring sincere emotion out of a tired old vocal line. She is clearly inspired by a fine small ensemble, especially the trumpeter Michael Rodriguez who trades off phrases with Santi frequently, and the marvelous pianist Robert Rodriguez, who consistently displays the sensitive touch of Tommy Flanagan, the artistry of Kenny Barron, and the fortitude of John Hicks. At her most spectacular on the long winded "Columbia Pa Miguel Angel," the band cooks up a 6/8 beat of the orishas for jamming, as Santi freely rumbles and interactively rambles with her spirited group. Definitely in the Afro-Cuban tradition, a la-la wordless vocal and clave rhythm identifies "Cumpling Cumpling" in a children's song vein, while "Convergencias" is in a light son style. A very clever, hip, and modal "Tender Shepherd/Little Girl Blue" combines melodies by Bill Charlap and Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart in a non-medley manner where the lyrics flow back and forth, not strictly segregated. The patient standard "Embraceable You" exploits Santi's higher range, and she triumphantly forms an extrapolated second lyric line like Eddie Jefferson did on "Summertime." "Tu Mi Delirio" is a Latinized hard bopper as the band goes to town while trumpeter Rodriguez shoots for the moon. Santi faithfully digs into a fairly straight blues with help from electric guitarist/bassist Jef Lee Johnson and organist Barry Sames on Ernesto Duarte's "Como Fue." Michael Rodriguez is an instrumental focal point throughout, striking up inquisitive musical conversations and quips as counterpoint to Santi's singing. There's a pop type tune with stretched vowel inflections, a basic sentimental ballad, and a song of well wishes that all fall a bit short of the rest of the material. Venissa Santi has all the potential to walk in the footsteps of Celia Cruz, Flora Purim, or Claudia Acuña as the next big deal singer to emerge from the influence of the tropics, and only time will tell. Bienvenida is a good first step. ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi

Bienvenida, Venissa Santí
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