Layla Angulo’s third CD has her hooking up with some heavyweights of Latin jazz, during a time period where she is physically migrating from her home base in Seattle to a higher profile professional life in New York City. Stellar players such as pianists Dario Eskanazi and Arturo O’Farrill, electric bass guitarist Oscar Stagnaro, and percussionists Robert Quintero, Walter A. Torres and Paulo Stagnaro are valued helpmates.
This studio session features her piquant and lustrous alto sax playing while she splits time as a vocalist, singing in three different languages. The result is an arresting combination, one that might have seen her stray into the pop realm of a Candy Dulfer, which thankfully she is avoiding. Four tracks also feature a small horn section, an aspect of her music more pronounced on her debut recording Live at the Triple Door.
As bright and beautiful as is her persona, Angulo is a serious player whose sound branches off from Paquito D’Rivera and Donald Harrison. Her singing is direct and passionate, not cheesy on any level, quite tuneful and competent. Check out “If He Comes Back” or “Strange Weather” and see if it doesn’t remind you of Tania Maria at her emotional best, or even better, a take of “My One & Only Love” that could emotionally move even the most unromantic turtle. The Afro-Peruvian title track in 6/8 time shows yet another facet, while group vocals on the hot “Que Te Valla Bien” and “Guajira” adds more depth to the substantial instrumental backdrop, the latter piece featuring master flute player Orlando “Maraca” Valle.
But in her heart and soul, Angulo is a saxophonist, and she shines on the hip Latin waltz “Eros,” chock-full of high spirits, the montuno inserts of Eskanazi, and harmonic accordion from David Lange. The descarga “Conga Nightmare” really jumps out of the speakers, a sure fire crowd pleaser. Her full, vibrant, sleek and sultry sound on alto comes through during a bonus track, “Sola,” a live recording from radio station KEXP, and she plays a slow and patient soprano sax on the cha cha/bolero studio version of the same song. There’s also a bossa nova, “Sonho Meu,” sung sweetly in Portuguese alongside Eskanazi’s bouncy piano.
With all the trimmings to be a superstar, Layla Angulo is hitting on all cylinders, and as others may urge her to water her music down to become more commercial, it seems all of what she’s doing here should be good enough for everyone as it is.
Michael G. Nastos, All Music Guide