Attempting to define the sound of Eliana Cuevas might just be an exercise in futility. This Venezuelan-born, Toronto-based singer/songwriter/bandleader has such a richly varied musical background and such genuinely eclectic listening tastes and musical influences that placing her in just one genre category is simply impossible. Eliana considers herself "a Latin American songwriter, but one with many different flavours in my music."
Rather than pigeonholing, we suggest you just relax and let yourself fall prey to the seductive charms of Espejo. Eliana's fourth album, it will be released on the highly-regarded ALMA Records label on August 5th, 2014. Espejo features nine original compositions that showcase Cuevas' prowess as a songwriter. The tenth song, "El Tucusito," was written by her husband and producer, Jeremy Ledbetter.
Cuevas is justifiably proud of the results, for, with Ledbetter's encouragement, she really challenged herself on this stylistically adventurous album. "I'd reached a point in my life and career where I wanted to take a few more chances," she explains. "I decided to explore more of my range as a vocalist and a composer. I wanted to experience something new, even in the recording process itself.
"If you don't challenge yourself, art can get stale. On my previous albums, the sound was very much focused on being able to reproduce the songs and arrangements live. On this one, I wanted to do something unique for each piece, but we have still been able to adapt them live."
The sonically rich Espejo features 20 A-list musicians from both Toronto and Venezuela. Jeremy Ledbetter handles the arranging as well as contributing tasteful piano and keyboards, melodica and mandolin, while other musicians include drummer Mark Kelso (Holly Cole), bassists George Koller (Loreena McKennitt), Ross MacIntyre (Emilie-Claire Barlow), and Rich Brown (Bruce Cockburn) and percussionist Daniel Stone (Nelly Furtado). Espejo was recorded at Toronto studio The Driveshed, with the recording and mixing done by award-winning engineer John “Beetle” Bailey (Serena Ryder, Molly Johnson).
Cuevas singles out her creative collaboration with Jeremy as a key to the record's success. "He knows me so well. If I need an extra push, he knows I don't need sugar coating. I can take it! If you are not really close with someone, you may not feel comfortable pushing like that."
The songs on Espejo cover a wide and compelling range of emotions and tones. "Lamento" is a lovely ballad enhanced by a string quartet, while the joyously upbeat "Agua, Cangrejo Y Sal" features trumpet, trombone and soprano sax. "Melancolia" is a haunting ballad on which Eliana perfectly expresses the emotion suggested by the title, while "Llego" is a vibrant tune bolstered by fluent piano.
Sweet album closer "Antito" is dedicated to Cuevas's young daughter Leila, who makes a charming cameo appearance. "El Tucusito" is a tune that showcases her vocal virtuosity. "On that one, my voice is more like a flute," she explains. "I've always enjoyed singing music without lyrics, where the voice is used like an instrument, but I'd never really included that in my own music. Jeremy based that song on a Venezuelan rhythm called joropo, infused with jazz and his own twists."
Espejo is an album full of twists and turns, but it is Eliana's warm, melodic and supple voice that is always in the driver's seat. Hers is a voice versatile enough that, over the past 15 years, she has sung in such notable jazz and world music groups as Latin-jazz combos Cruzao and CaneFire, reggae band Tabarruk, Latin-alternative band Plan C, salsa powerhouses Cimarrón and Caché, Brazilian outfit Pedras da Rua (who once opened for the legendary Cesaria Evora), flamenco guitarist Jorge Miguel, and with Maqueque, a project from long-time Cuevas fan Jane Bunnett.
She has also performed with Grammy and Juno award winning artists Alex Cuba and Jesse Cook, Celso Machado and soca legend David Rudder, and has toured extensively with the Juno nominated Darren Sigesmund Sextet in Europe, Japan and Australia.
Eliana's own earlier albums have also earned her an international following. Her 2001 debut EP, Cohesion, marked her a talent to watch, and helped her win a 2003 Latin American Achievement Award as Vocal Artist of the Year. Subsequent albums Ventura (2004) and Vidas (2007) further spread the word. The Eliana Cuevas Quintet first toured Germany in 2006, and response in Europe was so enthusiastic that Minor Music Records released an anthology of her work, Luna Llena, in 2009.
Cuevas' stylistic diversity is reflected in the fact she has won a Toronto Independent Music Award, a National Jazz Award (Latin Jazz Artist of the Year), and been nominated for a Canadian Folk Music award. This June, Espejo won an important U.S. honour, as Best Latin Album at the Independent Music Awards, the first of what promises to be many such kudos for the album.
The title of Espejo means "mirror," and Eliana explains its significance in typically eloquent fashion. "If you place two mirrors in front of each other, then you get infinite reflections. I view creativity and the possibilities for artists as being infinite in that way."
The endless creative possibilities ahead for Eliana Cuevas are indeed exciting. Stay tuned!