BWW CD Review: With AQUI Florencia Cuenca Lets Listeners Know She Is Here To Stay
You know that friend you have that is obsessed with non-English cast albums of Broadway shows? Everyone with an interest in musical theater has one. Mine was Steve Lovett and he would regularly give me audio cassettes for Christmas, birthdays, or any random occasion that he came across something he loved and thought I might like. I still have my German She Loves Me, a Japanese Phantom of the Opera, and a Swedish Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (he collected movie soundtracks, as well). Steve's passion for these record albums (eventually CDS) led to a music collection of vocalists from around the world and together we would compare notes on favorite albums by Mireille Mathieu, Claudine Longet, Luis Miguel and Wing, who he was especially excited to introduce me to. Sadly, Steve died a few years ago, but if he were alive today I would have sent him a copy of Florencia Cuenca's AQUI the moment I heard it, and I know he would have loved it.
Florencia Cuenca is a Mexican actress with a propensity for musical theater and a nightclub singer with a skill for jazz, so her CD of show tunes has been arranged to go hand in hand with her abilities at jazz styling. Aqui is sung completely in Ms. Cuenca's native tongue and one of the most fun aspects of enjoying the album is turning it on and walking away, letting it play as you go about your day, one surprise after another washing over you. Naturally, one could read the song list and if one knows a little Spanish it isn't difficult to figure out what songs will be heard on the hour-long musical journey -- but where's the fun in that? This is, indeed, an expedition that Ms. Cuenca and her music producer/director Jaime Lozano have painstakingly arranged to provide maximum music listening enjoyment, and part of it is the Easter Egg-like experience of discovering what famous Broadway melody is going to be found in all of the masterful jazz arrangements and gorgeous Spanish vernacular. So, why ruin it for yourself by doing research? Hit play, relax and let Florencia and Jaime take you on a magical, mystical journey of Broadway music.
To that end, this writer will not be naming one song from AQUI in this write-up - that is, I will not be using their English-language titles because it would spoil the fun. What can be said is that fans of Cole Porter will find the opening number "Solo Un Desliz" to be an appropriately festive way to kick off the proceedings, boldly stating that this is a jazz cd with its original treatment replete with horns, drums and piano solos worthy of a set at Birdland. Fans of Mister Stephen Schwartz will be happy to know that their boy is represented twice on this album, both times magnificently, with Ms. Cuenca bringing her individuality to melodies known and beloved, oft-performed by singing actors, but never quite like this before. Florencia Cuenca infuses that individuality into every number, and not just because of her background in jazz or the inherent flair that is obviously present when a Latinx performer takes on a piece of music, but because Ms. Cuenca was born with a voice rich with alto tones that she controls and maneuvers inside of the notes written and the notes orchestrated, a control only to be achieved through years of meticulous study and practice. Like a proper musical theater actress, Cuenca has a great belt, but as a skilled jazz singer, she has an ability to find nuances that turn a tune you thought you knew into a new adventure you'll want to take again and again. Particularly moving are Ms. Cuenca's impassioned "Mi Vida" and tender "En Domingo Dila," the former overflowing with the requisite drama of Wildhorn and the latter loaded with the wistful heartbreak of a ballad by Sir Andrew.
No album of show music would be complete without a Sondheim song and co-arrangers Jesus Altamiro and Lozano delicately showcase the jazz orchestrations on "Loca al Pensar" so that Florencia can do her work as an actress, paying the legendary song and composer the respect they deserve through a performance that can only be described as pitch-perfect. It's a moment in an album that brings great satisfaction at every turn, with the highlights for this writer being three personal favorites, "Tengo Amor," "Era Algo Mas" and the title track "Aqui," all of which were a complete surprise, and an absolute joy, especially some unexpected high notes on Jason Robert Brown's "Era Algo Mas" that seemed to come out of a magic drawer that Florencia Cuenco only opens on special occasions.
Those high notes may have been unexpected, but not the pleasurable experience of the CD Aqui. Take it from this Friend Of Steve (Lovett) - when it comes to non-English vocalist albums of Broadway music, Aqui is a recording full of unique qualities and musical exploits where jazz and musical theater lovers will discover new ways to enjoy old favorites ... and maybe a new favorite in Florencia Cuenca.
I know I have.