By Melina Paris Music Columnist
On Jan. 16 and 17, the Torrance Cultural Arts Foundation presented a show with gifted vocalist Charmaine Clamor. She performed in the intimate dinner setting of the George Nakano Theater.
Clamor appeared at this theater six years ago, so her performance was awaited with great anticipation. The speakeasy setting offered the perfect ambiance in which to enjoy Clamors rich vocal style. She has been compared to exceptional vocalists such as Nina Simone, Julie London and Cassandra Wilson.
Clamor, who was born in the Philippines, is the originator of Jazzipino. She describes Jazzipino as the new musical genre that results from melding traditional Filipino melodies, languages and instruments with the soul and swing of American jazz.
Watching her perform with her outstanding trio and it’s clear why she was so anticipated. With her smooth, velvety voice she commands attention as soon as she sings a note. Joining her was Laurence Hobgood on piano, Gary Wicks (Manhattan Transfer) on bass, and Abe Lagrimas on drums and ukulele. Together they performed diverse sets of traditional Filipino love songs, (kundiman and harana) and American jazz and pop including selections from her upcoming album, TheBetter Angels.
Opening with John Lennon’s “Imagine” set the tone for the evening. Clamor is a lady and vocalist with a theme of peace. It’s important enough to her that she sings of it in her repertoire and it is what she expressed to her audience between songs. In fact, on the upcoming Better Angels album and song of the same name Clamor draws from the close of President Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 inaugural address.
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Her pitch and tone are perfect and her band is impeccable. Clamor is able to deliver emotion deeply without altering the nature or structure of the song. The music and melody come through.
Later in the set she sang Harana in Tagalog, a Filipino courtship tradition of serenading women. Clamor was accompanied by Lagrimas on a ukulele, which seemed to dance its romantic melody by way of his fingertips. It was a sweet and beautiful number.
The first set ended with, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” a spiritual featured on her BetterAngels album. Clamor and her backup singer were in perfect harmony in an amazing closing crescendo.
To open the next set was a song she composed with Hobgood titled, “The Freedom Song.” Starting with a tribal drumbeat this song showcased the heavy talents of this band. Each musician was into their own divergent groove. Lagrimas on drums built in a slow powerful beat then came down to a soft, whispery brush stroke maintaining an incessant, unique rhythm throughout. Hobgood on piano was powerful and eloquent, taking us through a swinging song story of joy. Wicks played his bass artfully with force, funk and depth. Even though each player played their own improvisational inspiration, they came round to converge the groove together again in impressive dexterity. It was a powerful number that everyone seemed to be talking about after the show.
Next was a cover of Stevie Wonder’s, “Overjoyed,” performed with a segue in which Clamor switched to her native tongue again for another kundiman and back to the original number. It was a pleasantly surprising and seamless blending of Filipino and American music.
The classic “Since I Fell for You” was performed with a rich, resonant bass to open the song. Clamor’s timing of her emotive delivery shined.
Clamor enjoys playfully intermingling songs with a combination American and Tagalog lyrics. She did so cleverly on “My Funny Brown Pinay.” It is a retooled version of Richard Rogers’ standard “My Funny Valentine.” Pinay is a term for a Filipino woman and the song, Clamor celebrates the unique attributes of an indigenous Filipino woman: someone who has flat nose, black hair and brown skin.
“Take a look at my skin
Take a look at my nose.
This is for all my sisters growing up thinking they don’t look right, ’cause
they ain’t white, scrubbing with papaya soap
to make it light…I think you’re out of sight. You are beautiful.”
To close the set they played a jazz version of Carol Kings “A Natural Woman” arranged by Hobgood. Clamor captured the essence of the tune in this original arrangement. The perfect complement to a classic song.
Clamor is an artist who walks her talk. She not only sings and talks about peace, good will and social justice, she lives it. She serves on The Sierra Club’s Water Committee and has dedicated her song “Flow,” from her Something Good album to water advocacy organizations.
She also volunteers for environmentally responsible organizations. The water issue and living in an environmentally friendly way is important to her and she takes opportunity to educate others about it through her appearances and social media.
Clamor also performs annually at the Filipino-American Jazz Festival at Catalina’s Jazz Club. If you have the chance to watch her perform, go. She is a joy to see.