Chilean-born guitarist and singer/songwriter Camila Meza garnered a ton of attention for her 2016 breakthrough album Traces on the Sunnyside Records label. Her fourth recording as a leader overall, it was her first since arriving in New York in 2009 to attend the New School, where she studied with guitar gurus Peter Bernstein, Vic Juris and Steve Cardenas. Easily her most personal and revealing outing to date, Traces showcases her beautiful voice on English and Spanish lyrics and an accomplished guitar style that draws on her biggest influences (Pat Metheny and George Benson) on a set of mesmerizing tunes performed by her stellar quartet.
“Camila has a vision for the shapes of her compositions, but not in a way that stifles the creative of the other musicians in the band,” said drummer Kendrick Scott. “Playing with her is deep because she uses the folkloric element from her country and elsewhere and brings it through her own unique filter as a Chilean-born New Yorker.”
For a recent Paste Studios performance on July 6, the Santiago native and Brooklyn resident performed three tunes from Traces in an intimate duo setting with keyboardist Shai Maestro. She explained that Traces marked a significant shift in her attitude toward music-making (her 2007 album, Skylark, recorded in Santiago, was essentially a collection of swinging tunes from the Great American Songbook that showcased her exceptional guitar playing).
“That record kind of marked some kind of before and after in a musical life, and I guess it’s related with my personal life because it was a moment where I was writing music with the real need to express very personal things that I was going through that I felt that music was the way to really understand those emotions and learn from them,” she said. “And the fact that I was able to express them constantly by singing about them, it was sort of almost like therapeutic too. In a sense, that’s been an incredible relationship with music I’ve had lately, which is sort of like a teacher-master-healer thing. And so these songs, many of them from this album, they talk about some sense of liberation and finding a place within yourself where you can actually experience yourself in the most honest and true, full way.”
“That record kind of marked some kind of before and after in a musical life, and I guess it’s related with my personal life because it was a moment where I was writing music with the real need to express very personal things that I was going through that I felt that music was the way to really understand those emotions and learn from them.”
She opened her Paste Studios set with a version of her original “Para Volar” (sung in Spanish) which opens Traces. As she explained, “This song is like a chant for myself: ‘Let yourself be carried by the wind, fly again, dream again, recover your sense of freedom and just fly.’” Next, she played “Away” (sung in English), which was the first song she wrote for Traces. “It’s a song I wrote inspired by the love you have for another human that shifts in its form, where it can go from romantic love to another kind of love, but the real love is still there,” she explained. “It was kind of my realization that love, regardless of its form, just stays throughout your life.”
Meza also talked about her “rebel teenager” phase of playing Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin music as a rock player growing up in Santiago before developing her jazzier side after discovering the music of Pat Metheny and George Benson. “Slowly you start digging deeper and deeper until you discover Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall and all this traditional jazz music,” she said.
Though Meza may be deeply connected to the jazz tradition, her appeal goes beyond jazz. As she said, “It’s been an amazing journey because I’m always looking for new music and I’m always listening to whatever I feel attracted to. So it’s very broad.”
Another important influence for her early on was the Brazilian composer Djavan, whose song “Amazon Farewell” she played both on Traces and also at this Paste Studios session. She closes this engaging set with a version of Caetano Veloso’s arrangement of “Cucurrucucú Paloma,” a melancholy ballad whose lyrics allude to lovesickness. Catch Meza’s awesome display of George Bensonesque simultaneous scatting and soloing near the end of this hauntingly beautiful number.
In her interview segment, Meza also talked enthusiastically about up her upcoming project, an ambitious outing with her quartet augmented by string quartet which she has dubbed The Nectar Orchestra. “I’m extremely excited about this octet project because it’s expanding the textures with the string quartet, which amplifies the universe of expression, in a way,” she said. “As a singer and instrumentally, the texture that strings bring into a composition, it’s so rich and so lyrical that the message just flows through that sound. And we incorporated percussion too, so there’s another layer of sounds to play with. It’s so powerful, the sound that we created for this next recording. And I was able to bring some songs I had written years ago that I had sort of discarded. They finally found their place. It’s interesting, they were waiting for the right moment, in a way.”
Stay tuned for Camila Meza & The Nectar Orchestra. Meanwhile, enjoy her riveting Paste Studios performance in the player below.