Uruguayan-born singer-songwriter Valeria Matzner has been a musician for most of her life. It wasn’t until after she moved to Canada as an adult that she studied jazz, and it was there that she also eventually reconnected to her roots – in South America and in her own family as well. I’m very glad she did.
Glad for her song called “For My Father” if for nothing else. This song on her solo debut Anima typifies the music on this polyglot album that blends Portuguese, Spanish and English lyrics with a panoply of Latin-jazz styles and sounds. Just check out her bossa-style scatting duet with fiddler Aleksander Gajic, which is interspersed with Gajic’s sinewy soloing that combines tango and Balkan influences. Pianist Scott Metcalfe’s harmonic explorations behind the longest solo section play on the tension and release of this piece whose shifting moods reflect Matzner’s reconnection with her parent as an adult.
I wish there was more of Gajic’s fiddling on this superb album. It’s an instrument that used to be mainstream in jazz but that you don’t hear so much anymore. Gajic is also featured prominently on the slinky opening track “Contemporáneo,” a sort of noir tango that reflects some of the time she’s spent in Argentina. Both her vocals and the violin are channeled through a tinny mic, the music laid over a relaxed but insistent dancehall groove that won’t quit.
The focus of Anima, though, is on ballads, and her classically trained vocal instrument is up to the task and more. The most obvious is the lush, orchestrated “De Amor y Soledad.”
“A lot of the songs on this album took a lot of reaching to write,” Matzner says. “I found myself able to write faster, upbeat songs easily. But writing ballads, I resisted that. I had to embrace the tender and vulnerable part of me. In this part of my life, I’m getting more in touch with that side.”
Matzner’s vocal stylings convey those emotions she’s embracing, whether it’s in Spanish, Portuguese as on the beautifully flowing closing track “Lua Cheia,” or English as in her cover of Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower.” She actually blends snippets of Portuguese in with her Spanish lyrics, including the deeply rhythmic “Cor,” which weaves together two different Brazilian rhythms (listen closely and you’ll hear four beats inside of six), inspired by a late-night swim in Rio de Janeiro. I don’t know what inspired “Illusión,” but its intriguing blend of Latin rhythms (driven by the bassist Scott Kemp and drummer Max Senitt) and straight-ahead jazz horn charts, plus her colorful vocals make it a top jazz track of the summer for me.
Matzner has a full slate of festival appearances in Canada this summer. You can find them and a lot more on her website.