FRI – SAT, Nov 14-15 – Kat Parra Quartet

4135 Providence Point Dr. SE
Issaquah, WA 98029
phone: 425-391-3335

from The Seattle Times:
by Andrew Gilbert
Special to The Seattle Times

At first listen, Kat Parra’s recent CD “Azucar de Amor” seems like a typical well-played session of Latin jazz. A veteran of the Bay Area salsa scene, Parra knows her way around clave, the fundamental pulse of Afro-Cuban music. The album’s title track, for instance, puts a mambo spin on “Sugar,” a funky jazz hit for Stanley Turrentine.

But Parra isn’t content with tried-and-true formulas. Since the release of her impressive 2006 debut “Birds In Flight,” the Oakland-based singer has created an ambitious repertoire based on a treasure trove of Ladino songs written when Sephardic Jews lived in Muslim-dominated Spain more than five centuries ago. The rhythmically expansive arrangements give a whole new meaning to Latin jazz.

“When I started digging deeper into the Golden Age of Spain, when Jews and Muslims lived closely together and shared innovations, I was blown away and fascinated by the period,” says Parra, who performs Friday and Saturday at Bake’s Place as part of the Visiting Songbirds Series; she brings her superlative working band featuring bassist Peter Barshay, drummer Paul van Wageningen and pianist Murray Low, who’s responsible for many of the charts.

“I’ve done a lot of research into this music, and I’m very conscious of keeping the integrity of the melody, lyrics and story line, while trying to evolve this music to another place,” says Parra. “To me it’s not that big of a jump from Latin jazz to Sephardic jazz.”

On “Azucar de Amor,” she includes two Sephardic tunes, the classic love song “Por La Tu Puerta” and the ethereal ballad “Esta Montanya D’Enfrente.” One reason the pieces blend so seamlessly with her other Spanish- and Portuguese-language tunes is that Ladino consists largely of old Castilian, a language preserved by Jews who fled mostly to the Ottoman Empire after the expulsion from Spain in 1492.

Supported by a grant from the Zellerbach Family Foundation, Parra continues to expand her book of Sephardic songs set to an enticing array of Latin (and even Middle Eastern) rhythms. “All these songs embrace the basic theme of love,” Parra says. “Unrequited love, loss of love, a longing for the one true love, love of country. There’s also an underlying theme of the strength and perseverance for not only the Jewish people but of women in general.”

Parra’s sound is what makes the concept work. Full and throaty in her lower register, clear and crisp in her mezzo range, she possesses a voice with personality and soul. In transforming ancient Sephardic songs into evocative Latin jazz vehicles, she’s both following her muse and hoping to inspire listeners to explore a time distinguished by communal coexistence.

“Am I going to change the world with this music? Probably not,” Parra says. “But it’s a nice thought. It can’t hurt to recall a time when Jews and Muslims were able to live and thrive together. And these gorgeous songs flow so well into all the other music I’m doing.”

Seattle Times