For her first CD, Rachelle Behrens is reaching back to the classic Latin American music which surrounded her as she was growing up.
Evoking passion and deep emotion, these songs have been a mainstay of Latin jazz for decades. The Ottawa jazz/soul vocalist has recorded seven of her favourites, from across South and Central America. She'll showcase them at a CD release concert on Sunday, along with an ensemble of notable local jazz and Latin jazz musicians.
But not as you might be used to hearing them. While Behrens usually sings in English, for this project, all the lyrics are in Spanish, her first language.
“Well, it's a Latin CD, so I figured just do it legit – do it in Spanish! Don't muddy the waters with English or an Anglicized version of something. It's a traditional Spanish album that's in Spanish.”
The album is called Nostalgia – a word that's the same in both Spanish and English. The tunes are ones that Behrens plays regularly with her combo, music which she says crosses the language barrier.
“There's so much emotion in the music. I think that's what reaches people who don't speak Spanish. You can tell when a song... these melodies are so big and so passionate I think that's what reaches the people. They're good songs, well-written songs, and as long as I portray the song properly, people will feel what it's about.”
They include well-known tunes like “Besame Mucho” and “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás”, and less-well-known pieces like “La Idolatria” and “Nuestro Secreto”.
She picked “songs that I really enjoy. I love them. I like singing them. I think they're fabulous songs, so I went that route – whatever felt good for me. The 'Alfonsina y el Mar' song, the last track on the album, that song holds a very special place in my heart. It was my Dad's favourite song, so I did it for him.”
Behrens' parents were from Chile, and emigrated to Canada in 1969 in order to attain their PhDs in biochemistry. In their house, Spanish was spoken (“I learned English through TV – Sesame Street – and French by going to school”), and Latin music played.
“I grew up listening to all these traditional Latin songs. They always had this kind of music playing in background, so it's second nature to me.”
There are no songs from Chile on the album, she said, but two are from Peru, “which is really close, and one of them is Argentinean. There's a lot of bleed in that area as far as stylings go, so it's not Chilean per se, but it's close.”
Behrens is doing a trip through Latin America with her music: other songs are from Mexico, Brazil, and Miami. The album opens with “Con los Años Que Me Quedan” from Miami, which is “definitely Gloria Estefan”. Behrens has sang in tributes to Estefan, but says that the sound on this album is more traditional, and less New York/Miami salsa than in those shows.
In arranging the songs, she said, “I went with the version I liked most, which is not necessarily the oldest or the newest version. Like 'Besame Mucho', and 'Quizas Quizas Quizas' are pretty much very similar to the vibe that they had long ago in the 40s when they were written. The Peruvian ones, I went with the more orchestrated vals (waltz) versions, and not the Criollo versions."
“I just went with what made more sense to me, with what suited my voice better.”
Behrens recorded the album in January at GigSpace, with her long-time musical friend Mike Mullin producing. “It was very comfortable. It was organic-feeling, having Mike there and having music professionals that I've worked with for years. It felt good.”
Angel Araos, who is also from Chile, plays percussion on the CD, and César Ricardo (from Cuba) guitar. Behrens has been playing with both for the last decade. With Araos, “he's my go-to guy. He's my right hand when it comes to doing the Latin stuff. I wouldn't consider doing anything without him, because he's just so knowledgeable in the music.”
With Ricardo, “I've played with him over the years on various Latin things. We just get along famously well, and I wanted him on the project, because he's a very dear friend of mine.”
On the other hand, pianist Steve Boudreau is better known for playing straight-ahead or classic jazz. Behrens worked with him for the first time on this CD. “I know that he is just a fantastic musician, and he's got an ear and a touch that is very special. So when we got together one time, just to run through some songs to see if it would feel good, and it did.”
Trumpeter Don Paterson also played on the CD: “I've known Don just out and about, in pick-up gigs here and there, and he came recommended by Mike Mullin. And I had to agree because he's so wonderful.”
She said she recorded the album now because of Mullin and the musicians being available and enthusiastic. “I had the perfect storm where everybody was supportive and interested, so I said, well, if I'm ever going to do it, this is the time, because all the stars are lining up.”
The official CD release concert is on Sunday evening, June 11, at the Record Runner Rehearsal Studios in west Ottawa. Behrens said she will be accompanied by the musicians on the CD, plus bassist Marc Decho. César Ricardo will open the evening with a half-hour set of Cuban music “just to welcome people, warm up the room, get people in the mood.”
The audience will hear “the tunes on the CD, and also some other songs along the same lines. We're not going to stray too out in left field, so there'll be a couple more boleros, a couple more Peruvian waltzes, and things like that.”
She'll continue focusing on this Latin repertoire after the concert, she said – “more Latin music that's interesting to me, and that people enjoy” – including looking for shows and festivals outside Ottawa.
Behrens figures there's a gap there she can fill.
“There's not so much traditional Latin music happening in Ottawa, outside of the very closed Latin niche. So if you go to salsa clubs, it's a very niche, it's very particular. And for people who don't do Latin music, there's not much available to hear, so I wanted to bridge the gap. Give my jazz and R&B people a sneak peek of what Latin music can be.”
– Alayne McGregor
Rachelle Behrens will release her CD, Nostalgia, at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios (Unit 6, 159 Colonnade Road South) on Sunday, June 11, at 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.) Tickets are $20 and are available at https://recordrunner.ca/pages/events.