Best of 2019 #17: Camila Meza & the Nectar Orchestra – “Ámbar”


The surprising thing about Camila Meza and her new recording Ámbar is that this really shouldn’t be that surprising.  And yet, it is.  In fact, it’s stunning.  The vocalist-guitarist made a huge impression with her contributions to Ryan Keberle’s Azul Infinito and Fabian Almazan’s Alcanza, her voice shining like a sun at the center of all things.  And she was a light who illuminated every other musician on the recording as brightly as she herself, and made it inconsequential who belonged to the orbit of the other.  That ability to be at the center of things while equally and inextricably connected to every other element of the music is an enviable balance for a vocalist to strike.  Her own recording, the 2016 Traces on Sunnyside Records, further displayed Meza’s talent for an arresting delivery that makes one snap to attention while also conveying a soothing comfort.

But even here, Ámbar seems like a plateau achieved more audacious than anything reasonably anticipated for her next recording.  The strings arrangements of her Nectar Orchestra melt into the firm embrace of both jazz ensemble and Chilean folk, except during those passages where the strings say to hell with staying grounded in rhythmic patterns, let’s go soaring.  This is an album of many great proclamations and big statements, yet never seems far removed from a poignant melody and soft touch.  Inspired renditions of songs by Elliot Smith, Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays, Jobim/Vinicius de Moraes, and Milton Nascimento snap right into place with Meza originals, and come off sounding like they’d all been meant for this project on exactly this very day.  It’s one of the very best recordings of 2019, and, in the context of Meza’s recording career, it wholly decimates all measures of what could and should be expected next from her.

Your album personnel:  Camila Meza (vocal, acoustic & electric guitars); Eden Ladin (piano, juno, celesta, keyboards), Noam Wiesenberg (bass, arrangements), Keita Ogawa (drums, percussion), Tomoko Omura (violin), Fung Chern Hwei (violin), Benjamin von Gutzeit (viola), and Brian Sanders (cello).

The Self-Produced album was released on Sony Masterworks.

Music from New York City.

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