Thursday, January 08, 2009

Charmaine Clamor Serenades

My Harana: A Filipino Serenade
By Charmaine Clamor
FreeHam Records

Jazz is the ultimate musical magpie, able to synthesize influences from anywhere around the world. A fresh example of this phenomenon is the Los Angeles based jazz vocalist Charmaine Clamor, who has been blending the Great American Songbook with the music of her native Philippines. With her third release, My Harana, Clamor forgoes the conventional jazz standards, in favor of a repertoire entirely drawn from the romantic Filipino Harana serenades.

Known as songs of courtship and seduction, Harana music derives from the country’s Spanish heritage, which can be heard clearly here in Richard Ickard’s sensitive guitar accompaniment. With his able support, Clamor’s warm-toned voice, singing eight distinct languages and Filipino dialects over the course of the session, weaves some elegantly intimate music.

Clamor sets the late-night vibe right from the start, sweetly caressing the lyrics to “O, Ilaw (Oh, Star).” On Harana’s best arrangements, like “Ilaw,” “Mekeni King Siping Ku (Come Beside Me),” and “Lahat Ng Araw (All of My Days)” Gustavo Garcia’s percussion sets a nice groove, subtly propelling the music, but never killing the mood.

In truth, Harana varies little in terms of tone and tempo, but that is clearly by design here. Like the original serenades Clamor interprets, Harana was clearly crafted for romantic purposes. A bebop scat-singing workout would actually be counter-productive. To offer a little variety, there is a duet number, “Minamahal Sinasamba (Loving You, Adoring You),” featuring Clamor and the Filipino big band crooner, Mon David. While most of the album has a lush, enticing ambiance, the stripped-down arrangement of “Pamulinawen (Stone Hearted)” provides some contrast, as well. Clamor also contributes one original, “Labis (Too Much),” the only English language tune of the session, demonstrating a nice facility for lyrics of romantic yearning.

Since Harana ballads were traditionally the domain of men, her performances on My Harana are notable in their own right. It would be interesting to hear her stretch out this material in more overtly jazz context. We might have the opportunity in New York this Sunday night when she plays the Iridium Jazz Club (set time: 7:00). Those in the Bay Area can also catch her at Yoshi’s on the 22nd. Regardless, she has a lovely voice and a talent for interpreting lyrics, which can be heard to excellent effect on Harana. It is definitely a fitting disk for candlelight from an emerging vocal talent.