Camila Meza ‘Traces’ (Sunnyside) 5/5

camila-mezaVocalist/guitarist/composer Camila Meza possesses a rare gift; she excels in all departments. Her voice is exquisite, her guitar playing first-rate, and her songwriting imaginative. All too often with singer-songwriters, in whatever genre they work in, they might be gifted in one of the above areas, but rarely all three. “Traces” is Meza’s debut for Sunnyside Records and on this evidence she is clearly a star in the making. Together with a stellar band she has produced a captivating album that will surely propel her career a long way forward, not just with jazz audiences, but with all kinds of listeners, whatever their musical leaning. Meza’s band for this recording is comprised of some mighty fine musicians; Shai Maestro on piano, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, mellotron and pump organ, Matt Penman on bass, Kendrick Scott on drums, Bashiri Johnson on percussion and Jody Redhage on cello. Matt Pierson produces – with a great deal of style and subtlety I might add. The overall feel to “Traces” is one of warmth, optimism, collaboration and heartfelt expression. Originally from Santiago, Chile, Meza sets the heart racing with a varied palette of colours, all ablaze with irresistible melodies and an honest, likeable purity of voice. There’s also a lovely poetic, reflective nature that shines through in her writing, with at times a hint of fragility that endears the listener towards her even further. She successfully unites North and South America with her multilingual musings on life, relationships and storytelling.

At the inception of creating the music for “Traces”, Meza had a vivid dream of a seashore full of colourful, precious stones. Unable to carry them all home, she decided to take only the ones that made her feel something special. “This dream was the beginning of my journey to the core of myself” says Meza, “getting closer to what moves me, accepting my own truth and embracing my intuition.” And that’s exactly the impression one gets from listening to this album, in that the writing and performances are very intuitive. Not just Meza herself, but the whole band seem to be hot-wired into that same dream, a place where intuition and abandonment to letting a natural stream of consciousness take over helps the creativity in such a positively rewarding way. “This album represents the path traced, the moments, hopes and melodies that have marked my journey” she adds.

It’s difficult to offer up a comparison to Camila Meza. She really is a songbird taking flight, perhaps in a way that Joni Mitchell once did, breaking new ground without realising it, blending a gorgeous jazz-folk sound. The beauty of it is that it all just sounds so naturally effortless. “Traces” opens with the original composition “Para Volar”, sung in Spanish. “Let the wind take you, fly free until you find truths with no fear or time, freedom in its essence, let the wind take you, fly and dream again.” A beautiful vocal with a lovely acoustic production. And then as if to raise the bar even higher, she solos on electric guitar in a style that owes much to the legacy of Wes Montgomery and George Benson, and yet still retains a subtle originality that is her own. “Away”, as with a good number of tracks on the album, is sung in English and features a wonderful duet with vocalist Sachai Vasandani. The two voices work perfectly together, transporting the listener out of the norm and on to a journey of romantic, soulful exploration. “Traces” the title track, is a beguiling mix of sound that encompasses everything that is so wonderful about Meza’s writing. From the cool jazzy opening, to the luscious acoustic guitar chords, to the catchy chorus and inventive soloing. The enchanting “Amazon Farewell” is performed here with astonishing clarity of purpose, the band creating a spellbinding atmosphere. Dedicated to Meza’s loved ones, “Mar Elastico” is described by Meza as “conjuring up the imagery and memories of afternoon games with my sisters, an orange light following their steps. There’s the idea of brief meetings, and after all, a realisation of the elasticity of our relationships, that distance just makes us come back stronger when we meet again.” Spanish guitar illuminates the day on “Luchin”, with Meza’s hauntingly beautiful and pure vocal both touching and reflective in nature. “Greenfinch and the Linnet Bird” is a Sondheim composition, from “Sweeney Todd” and shows just how versatile Meza is, as she makes the tune her own. An ethereal, spaciousness pervades all else on the beginning of “Mangata”, before the jazz caresses the tune and propels it forward, allowing the songstress to once again effortlessly show her vocal skill and musical prowess. “Emerald” has a soft theatrical feel to it, warm and endearing. The closing tune “Little Person” is the closing theme from the movie “Synecdoche New York” which Meza fell in love with for its beautiful heaviness. Yet there’s nothing heavy about the way she performs the tune here. There’s a lovely sparseness to it that allows the quality of the writing, and above all, the quality of Meza’s performance to shine with its quite gorgeous simplicity and sincerity. Stunning.

On one of the tracks on this wonderful album, Camila Meza sings “I’ve decided to stay, stay in this open place, here’s where my heart sings, here’s where there’s no mistake.” And not only does that sum up well the music she gifts us with, but it also describes the feeling I get when listening to her music; it makes my heart sing. Go and buy this album now, if it makes your heart sing too, and in turn we pass on the message, we can have a world full of people with singing hearts. And that would make the world a better place. For now though, I’m content with the fact that my world is a better place having heard Camila Meza sing.

Mike Gates