"Filipina Diva Radiates Both Charm, Flair" from Charles Greenfield with Coral Gables Gazette

You know itÆs summer when the sounds from the Coral Gables Congregational Church across from the Biltmore hit high Cs or cascade in non-liturgical riffs from jazz vocalists or instrumentalists. In its 23rd season the churchÆs summer concert series, currently led by artistic director Mark Hart presents the best in regional summer pop, jazz and classical under the Spanish revival wooden beams of the 450-seat sanctuary. While last year the emphasis was weighed almost evenly with classical and pop, this yearÆs roster has shifted more to jazz and its famous families.

Never shy to bring new talent, the concert series presented the Filipina fusion and jazz songstress Charmaine Clamor July 3. According to her bio she is ôthe first Filipina jazz singer to find success on American radio, achieving the rare feat of simultaneously making the top five on both JazzWeekÆs World and Traditional Jazz charts.ö Her second album FlippinÆ Out (2007) was a critical hit with a fusion of jazz and Philippine folk music. The attractive contralto brings a sultry and throaty growl to many old-time American standards and introduces the audience to the torch songs of her homeland she terms ôJazzipinoö. Her voice has the low resonance and earthiness of the great Sarah Vaughn or grounded voltage of Mississippi-born Cassandra Wilson.

Her trio consists of pianist Jeb Patton, bassist Dominic Thiroux, and drummer and ukulele player, Abe Lagrimas. In the first set she started off with Hoagy CarmichaelÆs classic, ôThe Nearness of You,ö a hit from Glenn MillerÆs orchestration to singers like Diana Shore to Nora Jones. Her ability to sustain notes in mid-range was strong and consistent with PattonÆs compliant piano. After a short bridge or transition her climax ended with ThirouxÆs smooth arco or acoustic bass and LagrimasÆ swell of the cymbals.

Between songs, Clamor spoke to the audience with a pleasant charm that could use more humor and apply better timing in terms of transitioning from song to speech. After an overly loud version of Alex KramerÆs ôCandyö from the trio she segued into Duke EllingtonÆs reverential ôCome Sunday,ö with fine lyrics like ôI believe God is now, was then always will beö complemented by fine leaps from bass to treble. She followed with probably EllingtonÆs best-known hit ôIt DonÆt Mean A Thing,ö popularized by trumpeter Ray Nance and the great Ella ôDoo-Watö Fitzgerald, and produced a slower tempo with some weak scatting.

Clamor came back with more force and passion in an odd insertion on the program in the next song, ôSomething Good,ö from The Sound of Music. MariaÆs lyric, ôBut somewhere in my wicked miserable pastàö certainly belies the happy talk that irrigates the musicalÆs more optimistic narrative. The singing was sensitive and heart felt with a fine bass riff in mid-section. Her light touch was evident in Minamahal Kita (Loving You), a kundiman or Philippine torch song, in sprightly tandem with Lagrimas on ukulele. Ay Kalisud (How Sad) Clamor was chanted to an amplified bass before the crescendo ending. A final Brazilian song DoÆn Sa had an adequate samba beat with vocal bird trilling and percussive effects.

The second set was more cohesive and persuasive. After some low bass growls in Lynn AndersonÆs ôI Live to Love You,ö she brought out her humorous ôJazzipinoö arrangement of Rodgers & HartÆs ôMy Funny Valentineö with ôMy Funny Brown Pinay,ö a personal plea to her Filipina sisters to respect their beauty û ôDonÆt change your hair for me.ö Her next song was a tribute to two women: Nina Simone for ôSugar in My Bowlö and the inspired blues singer Linda Hopkins, a successor to the great Bessie Smith. ClamorÆs version retained the racy ôsugarö insinuations with more of a teasing tone than an earthy force of nature.

A surprisingly moody version of U2Æs ôWith or Without Youö had fine intensity, sustained singing and good backup by the trio from bass and the steady drumbeat. Her native songs continued with Panahon Na (NowÆs Our Time), a folk chant from the island of Mindanao, followed by the torch song Hindi Kita Malimot (I CanÆt Forget You), accompanied by ukulele. While very different in style, one incantatory, the other sweetly sentimental, the essence of each was well preserved.

Her version of Ray NobleÆs ôI HadnÆt Anyone Till You,ö an homage to Frank Sinatra, was hushed and sultry with a very slow beat with an obvious nod to Sarah Vaughn. Dahil SaÆyo (Because of You), Imeldo MarcosÆ favorite kundiman, was sugary and accented with nice phrase endings. For the final song, (her mother was a big Mario Lanza fan) she added her native Tagalog lyrics to Sammy CahnÆs Be My Love. The seven-minute version, inspired by Keith JarrettÆs well-known solo, was fascinating for its bi-lingual variety and charm as well as skillful piano by Patton. Wisely, Clamor avoided vocal pyrotechnics for a sensitive alternation of two languages in a lovely, sometimes halting, treble adulation to ôeternalö love.

Despite the obvious pun in her ôloudö last appellation, Charmaine Clamor lives up to her first name with charm and flair. Thanks again to the Coral Gables Congregational Church for finding some international sparkle to a humid and generally uneventful summer.

The season ends Aug. 14 with Ellis Marsalis, father to Branford and Wynton, and Aug. 28 with Chris and Dan Brubeck, the sons of the ôTake Fiveö legend, Dave Brubeck.

by Charles Greenfield, for Coral Gables Gazette, JULY 10, 2008