Jazz Vocals with Philippine Flavor

clamorCharmaine Clamor: Flippin’ Out (FreeHam)

This Filipina jazz singer lived in the Philippines until age 16, when her family moved to the U.S. Long based in Los Angeles, she has progressed from karaoke hostess to adored torch singer, and now has made her second album.

Clamor starts it off with a sociopolitical rewrite of “My Funny Valentine” that turns it into “My Funny Brown Pinay,” an exhortation to the brown-skinned women of her native country to not be ashamed of their color. Preachy, yes, and a bit on the lengthy side what with her repeating (or so I assume) some lines in her native Tagalog language, but it’s a point worth making. And, having thus prompted listeners to be hyperaware of lyrics, her brooding interpretation of U2’s “With or Without You” becomes an uncomfortable (in a good way) psycho-exploration of the balance of power between male and female, its darkness heightened by the sparse accompaniment of bass and drums.

Not everything is so fraught with underlying meaning, thankfully; Nina Simone’s “Sugar in My Bowl” oozes playful sex appeal, and the jazz standard “Candy” is enlivened with brief allusions to the beat of Bow Wow Wow’s cover (featuring, of course, another dark-skinned beauty, half-Burmese Annabella Lwin) of The Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy.” “I Hadn’t Anyone ‘Til You” provides a taste of the straight-ahead jazz on which Clamor focused exclusively on her debut.

The centerpiece of this disc, however, is a five-track suite of Filipino songs incorporating some Filipino instrumentation, notably the national percussion ensemble, kulintang, for which she is joined by the Pakaraguian Kulintang Ensemble (who also contributed briefly to the U2 cover). I would have liked to hear more of this, actually, and more prominently.

A song by fellow FreeHam artist Zaxariades (who plays guitar and scats on the track) provides some uptempo pep, but it’s forgettable musically. But with Clamor accompanied only by pianist Christian Jacob, the album closes on a high note with a gorgeously languorous reading of the old Mario Lanza hit “Be My Love” (written by Sammy Cahn); Clamor includes verses in Tagalog.

If the strong Philippine flavor of this disc puts it in a narrow specialty niche, that would be a shame, for Clamor is a talented artist and there’s nothing gimmicky about her move in this unusual direction. It’s actually pretty brave considering how staid and musically reactionary much of the jazz vocals audience can be, but if they dismiss Clamor on those grounds, they’re missing out on some fine singing. - Steve Holtje

Charmaine Clamor

Steve Holtje

Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based poet and composer who splits his time between editing Culturecatch.com, working at the Williamsburg record store Sound Fix, and editing cognitive neuroscience books for Oxford University Press. No prizes for guessing which pays best.

Well Said!

I am a longtime fan of Ms. Clamor's, and it is refreshing to read a trenchantly written review by a critic who understands her special gifts. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with such clarity and force. Very well done!

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