Even in childhood, Jessica Medina absorbed a mixture of cultural influences that defined who she was to become. Medina grew up in New York City, but her parents are of Latin American background. So, Medina was bi-lingual from the start, speaking both English and Spanish and being exposed to the musical traditions of numerous cultures populating the city. In addition, Medina spent a few years in Paris where she performed in both French and English with local musicians. And her interest in Brazilian music led her to learn Portuguese so that she could delve into the essence of that country’s beguiling music. All of those elements are present in Medina’s first album, Azul.
Her exposure to jazz appears on her version of Charlie Haden’s "First Song," not to mention her Monk tribute. Her love of Brazilian samba emerges throughout Baden Powell’s "Deixa." Her lifelong feel for Puerto Rican music comes through on Hector Lavoe’s "Triste y Vacia." And her affinity for the great American songbook is apparent on songs like "I’ve Got You under My Skin," animated by bassist Ed Kollar’s solid sense of rhythm, first loping and then in straight four as a duo with Medina and then in solo.
Now, Medina has launched a singing career in New York, where she has gained the recognition of notables like Claudio Roditi. Roditi, in fact, lends his support on two of Azul’s
songs, "Deixa" and "Once upon a Summertime" the former with a bright declarative trumpet solo and the latter with a subtle mellifluous flugelhorn statement. More frequently, we hear tenor saxophonist Greg Moore, who not only takes command of a song like "Alone Together," with his own burly sound, but who also contributes to the overall success of an arrangement like "Come Back to Me Baby" as he plays the initial vamp in unison with pianist Glafkos Kontemeniotis and then asserts the accents that contrast effectively with Medina’s aura of melodic imperturbability. That aura serves her well on "Triste y Vacia," which includes the largest back-up group of any song on Azul,
complete with flute, trumpet and back-up vocals. It is evident that Medina feels breathes that music from the start of her first chorus accompanied only by Jojo Smith on bongos. However, Medina’s smolder on "Triste y Vacia" becomes coolness on "First Song," for which she wrote the lyrics. Slow and deliberate with an almost-hushed vocalese-like recitation of the improvised solo, "First Song" replaces the danceable celebration of "Triste y Vacia" with doleful rumination. The group’s version of Monk tunes, forever associated with the famous Carmen Sings Monk,
liberates with its sense of fun, calling attention to Medina’s lighter side and the precision of her articulation during those quick Monkish triplets.
Backed by a group who contributes the appropriate combination of Latin percussion, call-and-response interplay with horns and varying perspectives of well-known songs, particularly with a few of Kontemeniotis’s arrangements, Jessica Medina has released a well-produced CD that puts together the various aspects of her own musical, and personal, development to create a revelatory musical self portrait.