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Acuna, Carter and Barron: An Al Fresco Treat

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Every summer, the Jazz Bakery adds a special event to its busy, year-round schedule of jazz--an event that departs from the venue’s warehouse-like location in the Helms Bakery building in favor of the airy, outdoor setting of the Ford Amphitheatre. On Friday night, this year’s installment, “A Midsummer Night’s Jazz,” served up a delightful musical banquet via performances by Chilean-born singer Claudia Acuna and the duo of violinist Regina Carter and pianist Kenny Barron.

Although Acuna did not come to the United States until she was in her early 20s (she just turned 30), she has mastered the essential elements of jazz with startling effectiveness. Most of her program was based upon material from her first (and thus far only) album, “Wind From the South,” with the addition of more unexpected material--a Spanish-language rendering of Milton Nascimento’s “Maria, Maria,” for example--apparently scheduled to be included in her next release.

Acuna’s adventurousness is her most engaging quality. Perhaps because she spent so much time in her formative years hanging out with musicians, she seems eager to approach every tune from an utterly open-minded perspective. She opened the show with a rendering of “Pure Imagination” that sought, and found, the song’s message of the spirit.

The Billy Strayhorn ballad “Prelude to a Kiss” was plucked from its traditional ballad setting to bloom over a surging undercurrent of rhythm. And “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” sung with its scene-setting verse, became even more beguiling in Acuna’s sensuously rhythmic interpretation.

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The Barron-Carter pairing, which surfaced unexpectedly in May with the release of their album “Freefall,” produced generally simpatico results--less as an interactive partnership, more so as two strong soloists efficiently working side by side. Opening their set with a rhythmic, Latin tumbao -tinged version of “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise,” followed by a bouncy romp through Johnny Hodges’ “Squatty Roo,” they suddenly made a sharp left turn into Barron’s dissonantly whimsical “What If,” best described, perhaps, as Thelonious Monk meets Philip Glass.

But the best moments in their program, surprisingly, were those with distinct vocal references. Carter’s poignant take on “Don’t Explain” recalled the dark lyricism of Billie Holiday, and Barron’s loose-jointed soloing on “Lady Be Good” countered with echoes of Ella Fitzgerald’s free-flight scatting--a perfect rounding off for a summer evening that had begun with Acuna’s inventive vocalizing.


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