For her debut recording, Acuna makes an impression that is hard to forget or dismiss. A native of Santiago, Chile, she has been living in NYC and working on her craft at the Blue Note and Small's. On this date she hooks up with peer-group younger musicians as pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Avishai Cohen, drummer Jeff Ballard, and some special guests. Acuna is clearly a gifted singer with a strong, flexible, attractive voice that can lilt or soar. Her resiliency and directness can be favorably compared to Roseanna Vitro, and she proves to be quite an arranger in her own right, charting this set of standards and Hispanic lyric songs. Acuna likes odd meters, using 6/8 on the dramatic "My Man's Gone Now," while adopting shades of Flora Purim (she facially resembles a young Purim) with soaring vocal overdubbing on her original, the title cut, which is supported and colored by Avi Leibovich's trombone. Saturated in percussion and Latin pulse, the horn-fired 6/8 arrangement of Cohen's design "Gracias a la Vida" has tenor saxophonist David Sanchez and trumpeter Diego Urcola swimming in this mix and trading figures during the bridge. A driving 5/4 pushes "The Thrill Is Gone" (not B.B. King's) into a free section, while that same rhythm, more patient in a shuffle style, conjures more drama during the poignant "Long as You're Living." Though in 4/4, beats of separated five and three with beautiful breezy piano chords from Lindner sets this version of "Pure Imagination" apart from any other you'll hear - a real triumph. There's a hard-bop two-note vamp take of "Prelude to a Kiss" and a quick waltz version of "Bewitched" where Acuna stretches the lyric line. Pianist Harry Whitaker is Acuna's lone foil for the ballad "What'll I Do?" while the trio with Whitaker and Leibovich dances with the singer in wafting, wordless, childlike wonder for "I'll Find You." Cohen and Acuna go it alone in mysterious, deep, and tender moments for "Alfonsina y el Mar"; Stevie Wonder's "Visions" is replete with "Autumn Leaves" paraphrasings, sporting devices both free and modern with dramatic punctuations and stop-starts, with Sanchez on soprano sax. Not only is there promise, but potential too, which is realized; when you consider this is Acuna's maiden voyage, her lengthy travels have already borne the seasoned fruit of a more experienced singer.
All Music Guide