Sara Serpa: What’s on Your Playlist?

March 25, 2013

Sara Serpa (photo credit: Vera Marmelo)

Vocalist/bandleader/composer Sara Serpa is one of the premier vocalists working today.  She has earned wide acclaim for her captivating voice, unadorned vibrato-less delivery, and ability to sing complex vocalese lines on equal footing with instrumentalists.

The 33-year-old Serpa first came to the US to study at Berklee and later New England Conservatory. Upon moving to NYC, she gained the attention of many top musicians including saxophonist Greg Osby who asked her to join his band and featured her on his album, 9 Levels. She’s also featured on Danilo Perez’ Grammy nominated Providencia. Serpa has released four discs as a leader: Praia, Mobile and Camera Obscura, the first of two startlingly original duo CDs with iconic pianist/composer Ran Blake.  Her 2012 duo CD with Blake, Aurora, has earned praise for its completely new take on the Great American Songbook.

1. “Moreira” – Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos 

The Argentinean Guillermo Klein is one of my favorite contemporary composers, and I’ve had the privilege to hear his band Los Guachos several times at the Village Vanguard. All the musicians in his band are amazing and together they create magical moments. After their gigs, I always go home in a state of awe. I love this song; it’s really great to hear Guillermo singing.

2. “Balderrama” – Mercedes Sosa 

I was in Argentina recently and bought Hasta la Victoria. Mercedes Sosa was an incredible singer.  Her sound is clear, tone, timbre is clean and fluid. It sounds so simple, yet so deep and direct. This song is beautiful, and it’s always for inspiring to realize the power of a voice accompanied by a guitar.

3. Sarah Vaughan 

Sarah Vaughan was one of the first singers I started listening when I entered the jazz world. As Ran Blake says, she is one of the great American voices. It’s hard to explain why I love her so much, there’s so much freshness, swing, and expression. There’s gospel, there are emotions, there’s a full commitment to each song. I feel like I can see her mouth and facial expressions when I hear her singing.

4. “Adam’s Lament” –  Arvo Part 

The Estonian composer is also one of my favorites. This composition is on the most recent albums released by ECM. I love his choral work, and on this piece the choir is really powerful. This piece is so dense and extremely emotional. I feel like it is a universal lament for the world’s sorrows.

5. “I Did Crimes for You” –  Deerhoof  vs. Evil 

I had the opportunity to catch Deerhoof live in September at the Williamsburg Hall. It was such an amazing concert. I loved their stage presence (they do rock and mostly have so much fun on stage), musicality, creativity, their band sound, and spirit. This song, for some reason, reminds me of good summer times.

6. “Ugly Beauty” – Thelonious Monk 

It’s always a pleasure and a moment of discovery to hear Monk, solo or with a band. It comforts my soul to hear him playing this melody and to hear how he comps for it.

7. “Clouds” – Steve Coleman and the Five Elements 

I love this piece. The combination of voice (the amazing Jen Shyu, one of my favorite vocalists, for her unique sound and ability to interact so naturally within the ensemble), trombone, trumpet, alto sax, bass, and guitar, is perfect.  I love their interplay – so fluid and so intricate.  I also love the straight sound of the band, without any extra productions.It’s almost like they are in the same room and I am. I always end up listening to this song when I’m on a plane.

8. “Muxima” – N’gola Ritmo 

I have been researching Angolan music, as my parents were born there, and I want to know what kind of music people were playing and listening back then in 1950. It’s said that the golden period of Angolan music was between 1945-1960, when music was a way of rebelling against the Portuguese colonialists/government. This song is almost like a national hymn; everybody knows and sings it.

9. “No More” – Billie Holiday 

This is an interesting song by Billie Holiday. When I started listening to jazz I didn’t understand her sound – today she’s one of my favorites. Her phrasing and her delivery of the melody are always so creative and expressive. What once seemed to be an imperfect sound is now, for me, one of the most powerful voices. There’s fragility and vulnerability, but that makes her even more powerful.

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