All she has to do is sing a few bars of the first song on What a Difference a Day Made and you’ll be captivated by the dolorous – and seductive – mezzo of Ermelinda Cuellar. The fact that she is a “dramatic” mezzo-soprano makes her rendition of these eleven songs all the more captivating. This enables her to inhabit – and sing with expressive poignancy – the lyrics, digging into the meaning of words and phrases with particular feeling to make emotions live and breathe in the music. It almost seems as if the songs were written expressly for her to sing the ones she hasn’t written, that is.
Miss Cuellar’s personality illuminates this music in places where many singers wouldn’t think to do so. A good example of this is “Midnight Sun” – a song immortalised by Abbey Lincoln late in her vocal career. Miss Cuellar deconstructs the song quite differently and she is thus able to sing a version quite uniquely to herself. Everywhere on this album the young chanteuse is keen alert to the myriad shadings and stylistic demands of the repertoire – largely dwelling on songs about love and the dolorous events in life when love does not flower in life.
The passion of her artistry is palpable whether in the smoky whispering, or lifting her voice to the sky. Her swinging vocal style on “I Could Have Danced All Night” makes for a refreshing rendition; The same holds true for “Man With a Horn”, where trombonist Andre Hayward also shines. “Angelitos negros” is a fine song both musically and in terms of its poetic lyrics. This song proves beyond doubt that Miss Cuellar is a very original songwriter.
The vocalist shares this music with a band whose music is spot on the money when it comes to reading the melodies, harmonising and inventing often new rhythms with which to swing older songs. The presence of the incomparable drummer and percussion colourist Marlon Simon makes an enormous difference to the subtlety of the music’s rhythmic colouring. In this regard, so does the wonderful percussionist Anibal Ambert, who died quite tragically from complications related to COVID-19 before the album’s release. Pianist Gilbert Sedeno, guitarist Greg Petito and bassist Anthony Caceres are also superb throughout.
Track list – 1: Man with a Horn; 2: Sabor a mi; 3: Al Mal tiempo buena cara; 4: I Could Have Danced All Night; 5: Midnight Sun; 6: Angelitos negros; 7: What a Difference a Day Made; 8: Duerme Niño; 9: Who’s Crying Now? 10: Historia de un amor; 11: Alone Together
Personnel – Ermelinda Cuellar: vocals; Gilbert Sedeno: piano; Greg Petito: guitar; Anthony Caceres: bass; Andre Hayward: trombone; Marlon Simon: drums and percussion; Anibal Ambert: percussion [RIP]
Released – 2022
Label – Independent
Runtime – 47:33
YouTube Video: Ermelinda Cuellar – Midnight Sun