Creativity can blossom in the most challenging of times. That’s the premise of “Dreamers,” an album by multilingual Latin jazz singer Magos Herrera and the string quartet Brooklyn Rider.
The Mexican-born Herrera, a longtime New York resident, had never worked with a chamber music ensemble. And her concept was somewhat outside the adventurous Brooklyn Rider’s already wide parameters.
“I wanted to work with a quartet that had an open-minded relationship with music and the quality of relating emotionally from their core to this very specific narrative,” said Herrera, speaking from her Manhattan home.
“That first call — it was so easy!”
Herrera’s concept was originally inspired by the “dreamers,” children who came to the U.S. with their families fleeing oppressive regimes. She wanted to highlight poems and songs written during dictatorships in Latin America and Spain.
“We were looking at how these flowers sprang up in difficult circumstances,” said Colin Jacobsen, speaking from his home in Brooklyn. “And how the poets and musicians who contributed to this repertoire dared to dream of beauty.
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“What drew Brooklyn Rider to this project was the music, the songs that Magos was talking about, Magos herself and her beautiful voice. It always comes down to the music.”
Brooklyn Rider includes violinists Jacobsen and Johnny Gandelsman, violist Nicholas Cords, cellist Michael Nicolas and, for this tour, percussionist Mathias Kunzli.
Herrera and the quartet will perform “Dreamers” Saturday at the La Jolla Music Society’s Baker-Baum Concert Hall.
The continent-spanning evening will feature compositions by such great singer-songwriters as Chile’s Violeta Parra, Brazil’s Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and João Gilberto and Mexico’s Álvaro Carrillo and Herrera herself.
Poems by Mexico’s Octavio Paz, Nicaragua’s Rubén Darío and — reaching out to Spain — Federico García Lorca have been set to music. The carefully selected arrangers for the album include Argentinians Guillermo Klein and Diego Schissi, Venezuelan Gonzalo Grau, and Brazilian Jaques Morelenbaum.
The beauty of the songs is enhanced by Herrera’s lovely and expressive contralto. Singing in English, Portuguese, Spanish and sometimes wordlessly, she transcends borders — musical and otherwise.
“Coming from a long time of playing jazz, it has been thrilling for me to have this particular equation of strings, voice and percussion,” Herrera said. “It’s unique.”
San Diego connections
“Dreamers” was chosen as one of NPR’s Best Classical Albums of 2018. Brooklyn Rider and Herrera are happy that they’re still asked to tour with the project.
“This is an example of something that gets out into the world,” Jacobsen explained. “And people keep hearing about it. It has lasted quite a bit longer than any of us expected.
“It’s the combination of these timeless, beautiful songs and a message that continues to resonate.”
Outside of the tour, Brooklyn Rider and Herrera are very busy. The quartet has a full summer schedule of concerts highlighting various projects.
Herrera’s new album, “Aire,” will be released today and includes contributions by The Knights, a New York-based orchestral collective. It was founded by Jacobsen with his brother Eric, who served as artistic directors on the tracks featuring The Knights.
In June, Herrera will appear in San Diego again, this time with Venezuelan jazz pianist/composer Edward Simon and his trio. The concert will honor Latin American women composers.
Jacobsen, no stranger to San Diego, is married to noted dancer and local native Maile Okamura. They spent part of the pandemic here with her family.
“We also have very close musical ties to a number of people in San Diego, so it’s always great to visit.”
Brooklyn Rider and Magos Herrera: ‘Dreamers’
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Baker-Baum Concert Hall, The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, 7600 Fay Ave., La Jolla
Phone: (858) 459-3728
Wood is a freelance writer.