Ahead of the May 31st release of her forthcoming album Ámbar, multitalented vocalist, songwriter and instrumentalist Camila Meza debuts today, "Milagre dos Peixes," a breathtaking version of Milton Nascimento's early 1970s composition. Culled from Meza's Quartet repertoire and refashioned here for the Nectar Orchestra, Meza's rendition of "Milagre dos Peixes," or "Miracle of the Fishes," brilliantly captures the passion, beauty and wailing sense of urgency found in Nascimento's vocals. It is both momentous and affecting, with enthralling solo contributions from pianist Eden Ladin and drummer/percussionist Keita Ogawa. Originally making its debut via DownBeat Magazine, who said that Meza's version, "maintains some of the original's folk feel through the inclusion of the Nectar Orchestra's pair of violins, even as some dark electricity creates tension during the song's middle portion," (Dave Cantor) - listen here.
"It felt very intuitive to bring 'Milagre dos Peixes' to this setting," explains Meza of the track. "There's something powerful and urgent about it. Nascimento was part of a movement in Brazil - they were writing songs with hidden political messages to avoid censorship from the dictatorship, but they still succeeded in boldly criticizing the regime. So there's a kind of surrealism to the imagery in Fernando Brant's lyrics, but with a devastating sense of reality. One of the messages I get from this song is that Nascimento is also singing about the imminent loss of the human connection to nature, and how a new generation is lured into worshipping the "new saints" that come in the form of TV, isolating them and diminishing their reverence for nature. The lyrics say, 'they no longer talk about the fishes and the sea, they don't see the flower blooming, the sun rising, and I'm just one more who talks about this pain, our pain.'"
Available now for preorder, Ámbar, the fifth studio album from Camila Meza, showcases the Chilean-born talent's ever-evolving artistic sensibility. Set for release May 31 via Sony Music Masterworks, Ámbar finds Meza reaching new virtuosic and expressive heights as a singer, a stirring guitar soloist, an ambitious songwriter and a producer. Accompanied by the Nectar Orchestra, a hybrid ensemble with string quartet, with string arrangements by bassist and frequent collaborator Noam Wiesenberg and features from pianist/keyboardist Eden Ladin, drummer/percussionist Keita Ogawa, violinists Tomoko Omura and Fung Chern Hwei, violist Benjamin von Gutzeit and cellist Brian Sanders, Ámbar is distinguished by its extraordinarily close attention to sonic detail. Steeped in metaphor, romance and complex emotion, Ámbar is Meza's boldest artistic statement to date, a breakthrough, rooted in the incredible agility and interplay of Meza's state-of-the-art jazz group.
"What's amazing about this project," says Meza, a native of Chile, "is the friendships I've developed with all of these musicians - I've been 10 years in New York, so at this point you can really say that colleagues of yours are also really good friends. In Noam, I'm collaborating with an incredible musician but also one of my very best friends. Ámbar is half his intention as well - he worked on it as much as I did."
The intimate, familial bond Meza speaks of is at the heart of the album's title track "Ámbar": it means "amber" in Spanish, a translation of her adored grandfather's last name, Bernstein. Meza lost him just months after moving to New York, and, unable to return to Chile at the time, was forced to grieve on her own.
"I had to mourn by myself," she recalls. "And I turned to music - it was the place I needed to go - and I wrote a song about connecting and reaching the spirit of a lost loved one. By singing, you can give a proper farewell, or even meet them whenever you want. We don't necessarily die."
Years passed and Meza encountered that word again, Ámbar, "a resin that becomes petrified," she says.
"It's a response of trees to injuries and wounds," she continues. "They cover the wounds with this resin, and I thought of how my song had become like amber for that moment, how it petrifies, and the song also remains forever. It all revolved around the idea of healing, which is important individually but also as a society. We are in that moment where we need to see ourselves, look at our wounds and try to heal them."
Following up Traces (2016), which won two Independent Music Awards for Best Adult Contemporary Album and Best Latin Song ("Para Volar") and established Meza as a Rising Star in both guitar and female vocal categories in the esteemed DownBeat Critics Poll, Ámbar continues to reflect Meza's immersion in jazz, American pop and Latin American music across eras and genres. On the album's lead offering, "All Your Colors," Meza begins calmly as keyboards and then strings surround her, easing into tempo with bright pizzicato figures. Wiesenberg's arrangements have strings providing warm legato and enveloping harmony but also percussive rhythm. Elsewhere "Kallfu" was inspired by a trip to Patagonia and the feeling of peace that Meza found there, reminding her of the "essential aspects of our lives that become clear when immersed in nature." Meaning "blue" in Mapudungun, the language of southern Chile's native Mapuche people, the track also pays homage to the Mapuche people, who continue to this day fighting for the protection of the land and their rights.
Along with her own vibrant and infectious originals, Camila covers material by Elliott Smith, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Chico Buarque, Milton Nascimento and Mexico's Tomás Méndez, along with a pointedly topical rendition of "This Is Not America" by Pat Metheny and David Bowie. Previously included in Meza's quartet repertoire, "Milagre dos Peixes," one of Nascimiento's most rapturous melodies, now features as one of the album's most powerful tracks in its new iteration with the Nectar Orchestra, an adaptation the musician reflects "felt very intuitive."
"This Is Not America," which Metheny and Bowie contributed to the 1985 film The Falcon and the Snowman, is set to a slow backbeat that grows to a sweeping crescendo in the ending rock-tinged vamp, with the lyrics becoming a kind of "catharsis," in Meza's words. Her rendition was inspired in part by a personal connection to Metheny, who enlisted her talents to perform and act as musical director for his 2018 NEA Jazz Masters induction ceremony at The Kennedy Center.
Equally prized as a vocalist, guitarist and composer, Meza has uplifted audiences worldwide with her assured and beautiful singing, highly advanced guitar (both self-accompaniment and blistering solo work), and vivid, melodic songwriting that reveals complex layers with every listen. She's been hailed by The New York Times as "a bright young singer and guitarist with an ear for music of both folkloric and pop intention." In 2019 she releases her fifth album, Ámbar, on Sony Music Masterworks, producing it herself and proudly unveiling the Nectar Orchestra, a collaboration with bassist and arranger Noam Wiesenberg. Meza moved from Chile to New York at 23, graduating in 2013 from The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, where she studied with Peter Bernstein, Vic Juris, Sam Yahel, Steve Cardenas and Gil Goldstein, among others. Bringing a sound full of warmth and clarity to the New York jazz scene ever since, she has distinguished herself as a member of Ryan Keberle's Catharsis and Fabian Almazan's Rhizome, and has also worked with Kenny Barron, Paquito D'Rivera, Aaron Goldberg, Sachal Vasandani and many more. She has appeared at festivals worldwide as well as NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series and WBGO's The Checkout, garnering praise from The Village Voice, The Wall St. Journal and many other outlets. In 2018, Pat Metheny enlisted her to perform and act as musical director for his NEA Jazz Masters induction ceremony at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.