Camila Meza :
"Elegant orchestration and direct emotional address find common purpose in Ámbar" – Nate Chinen, WBGO FM (Take Five)
"The Chilean-born musician is a bona fide triple threat-consummate guitarist, captivating singer, accomplished songwriter . . . Ambar, [is] a new project that elevates Camila's musical storytelling to another level.
– Bill Milkowski, Paste Magazine (12 New Jazz Artists to Watch in 2019)
"The album, which marks her debut on Sony Music Masterworks and she produced herself, paints a beautiful sonic landscape and is full of attention to detail . . ." – Matt Micucci, Jazziz Magazine (10 New Jazz Albums You Need To Know About)
"Meza is taking jazz singing to another place where English and Spanish coexist, where folklore has just as much musical heft as the great jazz singing we all know and love, where the trappings of jazz also become tools to blend the genres."
– Felix Contreras, NPR (alt.Latino)
Today, multitalented vocalist, songwriter and instrumentalist Camila Meza releases her debut album on Sony Music Masterworks, Ámbar. Available now, Ámbar, the fifth studio album from Meza, showcases the Chilean-born talent's ever-evolving artistic sensibility, and finds her reaching new virtuosic and expressive heights as a singer, a stirring guitar soloist, an ambitious songwriter and a producer. Featuring the Nectar Orchestra, a hybrid ensemble with string quartet, with arrangements by bassist Noam Wiesenberg, and pianist/keyboardist Eden Ladin, drummer/percussionist Keita Ogawa, violinists Tomoko Omura and Fung Chern Hwei, violist Benjamin von Gutzeit and cellist Brian Sanders, Ámbar is distinguished by its extraordinarily close attention to sonic detail. Steeped in metaphor, romance and complex emotion, Ámbar is Meza's boldest artistic statement to date, a breakthrough, rooted in the incredible agility and interplay of Meza's state-of-the-art jazz group.
"What's amazing about this project," says Meza, a native of Chile, "is the friendships I've developed with all of these musicians - I've been in New York for ten years now, so at this point you can really say that colleagues of yours are also really good friends. In Noam, I'm collaborating with an incredible musician but also one of my very best friends."
The intimate, familial bond Meza speaks of is at the heart of the album's title track "Ámbar" – it means "amber" in Spanish, a translation of her adored grandfather's last name, Bernstein. Meza lost him just months after moving to New York, and, unable to return to Chile at the time, was forced to grieve on her own.
"I had to mourn by myself," she recalls. "And I turned to music - it was the place I needed to go - and I wrote a song about connecting and reaching the spirit of a lost loved one. By singing, you can give a proper farewell, or even meet them whenever you want. We don't necessarily die."
Years passed and Meza encountered that word again, Ámbar, "a resin that becomes petrified," she says.
"It's a response of trees to injuries and wounds," she continues. "They cover the wounds with this resin, and I thought of how my song had become like amber for that moment, how it petrifies, and the song also remains forever. It all revolved around the idea of healing, which is important individually but also as a society. We are in that moment where we need to see ourselves, look at our wounds and try to heal them."
Following up Traces (2016), which won two Independent Music Awards for Best Adult Contemporary Album and Best Latin Song ("Para Volar") and established Meza as a Rising Star in both guitar and female vocal categories in the esteemed DownBeat Critics Poll, Ámbar continues to reflect Meza's immersion in jazz, American pop and Latin American music across eras and genres. On the album's lead offering, "All Your Colors," Meza begins calmly as keyboards and then strings surround her, easing into tempo with bright pizzicato figures. Wiesenberg's arrangements have strings providing warm legato and enveloping harmony but also percussive rhythm. Elsewhere "Kallfu," premiered on PopMatters.com, was inspired by a trip to Patagonia and the feeling of peace that Meza found there, reminding her of the "essential aspects of our lives that become clear when immersed in nature." Meaning "blue" in Mapudungun, the language of southern Chile's native Mapuche people, the track also pays homage to the Mapuche people, who continue to this day fighting for the protection of the land and their rights. The esteemed Will Layman said of "Kallfu" in his video premiere, INSERT WILL LAYMAN QUOTE HERE.
In addition to vibrant originals like "All Your Colors" and her take on "Milagre dos Peixes," Meza also covers material by Elliott Smith, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Chico Buarque and Mexico's Tomás Méndez, along with a pointedly topical rendition of "This Is Not America" by Pat Metheny and David Bowie. "This Is Not America," which Metheny and Bowie contributed to the 1985 film The Falcon and the Snowman, is set to a slow backbeat that grows to a sweeping crescendo in the ending rock-tinged vamp, with the lyrics becoming a kind of "catharsis," in Meza's words. Her rendition was inspired in part by a personal connection to Metheny, who enlisted her talents to perform and act as musical director for his 2018 NEA Jazz Masters induction ceremony at The Kennedy Center.
"Milagre dos Peixes," a breathtaking version of Milton Nascimento's early 1970s composition. Culled from Meza's Quartet repertoire and refashioned here for the Nectar Orchestra, Meza's rendition of "Milagre dos Peixes," or "Miracle of the Fishes," brilliantly captures the passion, beauty and wailing sense of urgency found in Nascimento's vocals. Originally making its debut via DownBeat Magazine, who said that Meza's version, "maintains some of the original's folk feel through the inclusion of the Nectar Orchestra's pair of violins, even as some dark electricity creates tension during the song's middle portion" (Dave Cantor), Meza's version is both momentous and affecting, with enthralling solo contributions from pianist Eden Ladin and drummer/percussionist Keita Ogawa – listen here.
"It felt very intuitive to bring ‘Milagre dos Peixes' to this setting," explains Meza of the track. "There's something powerful and urgent about it. Nascimento was part of a movement in Brazil - they were writing songs with hidden political messages to avoid censorship from the dictatorship, but they still succeeded in boldly criticizing the regime. So there's a kind of surrealism to the imagery in Fernando Brant's lyrics, but with a devastating sense of reality. One of the messages I get from this song is that Nascimento is also singing about the imminent loss of the human connection to nature, and how a new generation is lured into worshipping the "new saints" that come in the form of TV, isolating them and diminishing their reverence for nature. The lyrics say, ‘they no longer talk about the fishes and the sea, they don't see the flower blooming, the sun rising, and I'm just one more who talks about this pain, our pain.'"