Review: Mexican jazz singer Magos Herrera’s Hong Kong debut memorable

Arresting interpretations of songs delivered in Spanish, Portuguese and English, and uncluttered arrangements, made concert by singer and fine trio accompanying her one to remember

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 November, 2016, 12:36pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 November, 2016, 12:36pm

Magos Herrera is clearly more famous in Hong Kong than I, and possibly she, had thought. A more or less full house turned out at City Hall to hear the Mexican singer.

An inquiry from the stage as to whether there were any Mexicans in the house produced fewer whoops of affirmation than I would have expected, so clearly her following has a broader international base.

So has her repertoire. Mexican composers and settings of the words of Mexican poets were strongly represented in the evening’s programme, but she also drew on the bossa nova songbook of Brazilian Antonio Carlo Jobim, and sang arresting interpretations of Cuban band leader Mongo Santamaria’s Afro Blue, and the Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael standard Skylark.

The songs were sung in Spanish, Portuguese, and English, and Herrera appears equally comfortable in each language.

She appeared with a fine jazz trio composed of guitarist Chico Pinheiro, drummer Alex Kautz, and bassist Sam Minaie, and The bossa nova tunes perhaps benefitted from the fact that Pinheiro and Kautz are Brazilian and completely at home in that style.

How Brazil has influenced jazz since the 1960s

Minaie is Iranian American and, like the others, a well-recognised figure on New York’s high-level and fiercely competitive jazz scene.

They have clearly worked together often enough to develop a close rapport. Pinheiro, who is known as a composer as well as a guitarist, shifted between steel- and nylon-strung electric instruments and carried much of the load as an instrumental soloist.

Swinging the night away: original New York jazz scene lands in Hong Kong as growing numbers discover swing dance at Grappa’s Cellar

He accompanied Herrera in a duet format some of the time, and chose his chords with impeccable taste. His sound shows the influence of Pat Metheny, a player who is also steeped in Brazilian music. Minaie’s bass playing was warmly sonorous and the intonation on his solos flawless.

The arrangements were admirably uncluttered, and each of the musicians understands the importance of leaving space.

Although batteries of Latin percussion often feature in the kind of music Herrera sings, the absence of supplementary instrumentation was not felt. Indeed, Kautz had restricted himself to a stripped-down- to-basics drum kit from which he is a skilled enough player to extract a great variety of tones.

Herrera herself is an authentic jazz singer, as opposed to a torch singer performing standards. On Skylark in particular, which closed the evening, she took some dramatic liberties with the familiar melody.

Why Montreux Jazz Festival chose Singapore for its first Asia jazz club

Generally she phrases like an instrumentalist, but the words of her songs clearly matter to her as much as the music, and from time to time I found myself wishing I understood a bit more Spanish. There were plenty of other elements to her interpretations to appreciate, however.

Her concert was a benefit performance for the UN Women’s #HeForShe Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality, and was promoted by the Mexican consulate. It was her first in Hong Kong. Let’s hope we can welcome her back again soon.

Magos Herrera, City Hall Concert Hall. Reviewed: November 21