JANUARY 16, 2019
"Magela Herrera Explicaciones"
By Jim Hynes
Magela Herrera is a Cuban-born, Miami-based vocalist, composer and flute virtuoso making her debut as a bandleader with Explicaciones. Not since the days of those classic CTI Hubert Laws albums and those Atlantic LPs from Herbie Mann, has this writer heard such an expressive flutist. Yes, we could add Charles Lloyd’a alto flute to that list too. Beyond the flute though, Herrera is a sensual, vibrant vocalist and composer with a solid beginning and promising future. She leads a small ensemble of some of Miami’s best players through originals, jazz standards, Latin and Cuban favorites. Her unique background is the melding of several influences and experiences.
This experience includes Latin Jazz, Euro jazz, classic Afro-Cuban traditions, jazz fusion and electronica. She was a member of Mezcla – one of Cuba’s leading jazz and fusion groups from 2004 through 2011. In 2010 Herrera was nominated for Best Solo Flute from the New York based magazine Jazz Corner for the tune “Quien tiene el ritmo,” from the Mezcla album I’ll See You in Cuba, which was also nominated for Best Album.
Herrera, though, has an exploratory spirit that pushed her beyond her Cuban roots. She lived in Norway for several years, learning about jazz and improvisation while earning Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Jazz Performance from the Norwegian Academy of Music. This was a major change from her earlier days studying classical music at the Conservatory of Music in Havana where she earned her first Bachelor’s. It was in Norway that Herrera began to overcome her shy nature, build confidence and explore music freely.
The last few months have been heavy on Latin jazz, with much of it devoted to childhood memories or forgotten performers. It's also common to add just a bit of Latin jazz to another sub-genre of jazz such as big band or even organ trios as an "influence" or a hybridization. What isn't common is taking Latin jazz into new directions, possibly because the form is so hewed to traditions. This is what makes Magela Herrera's new album, Explicaciones, so fascinating from first listen--this Cuban-born flute virtuoso and vocalist is dead-set on making a memorable first impression with her debut as a bandleader and composer by putting so much of herself into these song arrangements, and veering off in exciting new directions.
Herrera was a member of Mezcla, a fusion jazz group from Cuba, for six years. Perhaps this is what informs her adventurous side, her ability to step away from normal Caribbean rhythms and styles and devote herself to a completely new approach. Her arrangements avoid the well-traveled roads of Latin jazz and establish a novel, sometimes thorny approach that sounds like she's re-inventing the form, even with familiar compositions as "Besame Mucho" and "My One and Only Love." (Most of this album contains her original compositions, but they blend seamlessly with the covers.)
Herrera has surrounded herself with some of the best Latin jazz performers in Miami for Explicaciones, and that helps to ground her and remind her of the musical foundations she needs to protect. Her willingness to stray and explore, however, must come from studying at the Norwegian Academy of Music, where she earned two degrees in Jazz Performance. "They didn't force us to follow rules, "Herrera explains in the liner notes. "I found it more comfortable to write music outside a strict pattern, to create whatever was in my head." This new chapter in her life gave her the confidence to start composing and arranging on her own, culminating in this, her first solo album.
Herrera does alternate freely between flute and vocals, and she's equally adept. Her singing voice is rich, direct and full of warmth, and I'm tempted to say the same thing about her flute. Herrera's approach to the flute is more direct than most--her notes focus on the power of the melody as opposed to dancing around the edges, and that creates an accessibility that will guide you through the more ambitious passages, such as in the intriguing opener, "Two Sidewalks." While the rest of the album takes a step back and eases up the tension, "Two Sidewalks" is a mighty impressive opening statement from Herrera, one that lays down all the rules, or lack thereof. This is the album to listen to when you think you've heard enough Latin jazz and you're clamoring for something new, but you still want to soak in that infectious energy. Highly recommended.
DECEMBER 28, 2018
"Magela Herrera stuns on debut album 'Explicaciones'"
By Dodie Miller-Gould
"Magela Herrera is a vocalist, composer and flute player. Born in Cuba, Herrera is based in Miami. After years of ensemble playing, Herrera presents a debut album full of fresh and stunning ideas. “Explicaciones” the new album from Herrera, is due for release Jan. 21, 2019.
About Magela Herrera
According to Herrera, music came to her during her earliest days. “My parents exposed me to all kinds of music and my mom told me that as a baby, I would wake up from my naps singing – -which is why they enrolled me in music school.”
Herrera has come a long way from her days of singing after nap. The flutist didn’t want to limit herself to Cuban music and went to Norway to study music. There, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Jazz Performance from the Norwegian Academy of Music. This was after she had earned a bachelor’s degree in classical music from the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA). She also studied classical music in her native Havana previously.
Claiming to be too shy to have recorded an album before now, Herrera spent the last two years gigging in Miami’s vibrant jazz, r&b/funk and electronica scenes. Herrera is well-versed in playing flamenco, Latin music, Afro jazz and electronic music.
Herrera is joined on the album by some of jazz’s most talented players. Tal Cohen is on piano, Greg Diamond is on guitar, David Chiverton is on drums, and Nestor Del Prado and Dion Keith Kerr play bass."
About “Explicaciones” by Magela Herrera
The debut album is full of eight expressive tracks. Each has its own identity and flair. Listeners will come to appreciate Herrera’s fluid, ethereal, and melodic flute playing. The rhythms are strong and persistent.
“Two Sidewalks” opens the album and it is full of Herrera’s signature style. It opens with a swift rumble of bass. The flute darts in and out with quick notes. The drums clatter effectively. The piano then copies the lines of other instruments. The song gives the impression that small animals are chasing each other. That is the kind of music Herrera makes- – that which moves and inspires movement in others. The end of the song is a wild flurry of sound, until the flute plays its final measures and the album is whisked to another song.
“Principios” and the title track, “Explicaciones,” are also standout tracks.
On her debut album, Herrera sings and plays. Her version of jazz mixes smooth sounds with Latin rhythms, a fluttering flute motif with a gently thundering drum beat. The sounds are pleasant without being sleepy. They are innovative without going too far afield.
“Explicaciones” will be available in stores and online.