Chilean Jazz Vocalist Claudia Acuña Is Back, Like You’ve Never Heard Her Before

More than a long-awaited new album, Claudia Acuña’s Turning Pages is an exquisite reintroduction to a singer who has thrived at the cusp of jazz and Latin American music. The project captures an artist in the process of reinventing herself, with a program of strikingly melodic original songs expressing her singular vision. Featuring a stellar cast of collaborators, Acuña’s first new recording in a decade makes a compelling case that while keeping a lower profile she’s been pluming new emotional depths.

 “In the past I’d include one or two original songs on a record,” she says. “With Turning Pages I decided to focus on my songs, which can feel like I’m opening my diary and telling my story. This felt like the right time to introduce myself as a composer, and introduce me.”

Born July 3, 1971 in Santiago and raised in Concepcion, Acuña established herself on the Chilean jazz scene in her early 20s. When she arrived in New York City in 1995, Acuña quickly gained recognition as a leading voice on a scene rapidly being transformed by a wave of brilliant Latin American musicians. Part of the roiling scene centered on Small’s, she plunged into collaborations with masters such as Jason Lindner, Harry Whitaker, Arturo O'Farrill, Guillermo Klein, and bassist Avishai Cohen, who co-produced her critically hailed 2000 debut Wind From the South (Verve).

Her five albums as a leader established Acuña as a creative force, from 2002’s Rhythm of Life (Verve) and 2004’s Luna (MaxJazz) though 2008’s In These Shoes (Zoho Music) and 2009’s strikingly beautiful En Este Momento (Marsalis Music). Whether putting her stamp on popular Latin American ballads, reimagining jazz standards from a South American perspective, or bringing infusing Afro-Caribbean material with a wide rhythmic sensibility, Acuña stands out as a passionate and emotionally incisive singer with a gleaming, burnished bronze tone.

For much of the past decade she’s put her recording career on the backburner to focus on raising her son. Instead of touring, she’s stayed closer to home, where her keen intelligence and intrepid spirit has made her the vocalist of choice for many of jazz’s most creative figures. Rather than stagnating she’s thrived by pursuing multiple musical directions with artists such as Susie Ibarra, Billy Childs, Henry Threadgill, the Rodriguez Brothers, and Elio Villa-Franca.

Acuña brings all of her far-flung experiences to bear on Turning Pages, an album that documents a major creative leap. Her key collaborator was Colombian-born string wizard Juancho Herrera, who produced the album, co-wrote several songs, and had a major hand in most of the arrangements. As much as Turning Pages points toward the future, the album is also an act of reclamation and recovery, as Acuña takes stock of her past via songs new and old. It’s the work of a woman reborn from the ashes, stronger, wiser, and more expressive than ever. Ready once again to take on the world, she’s eager to reconnect with long-time fans and build new audience alliances.