Jazz singing has always been a tree with firm roots, but a wild entanglement of branches. Its sound and shape are mutable, prone to outside influence and local inflection. Take the two artists featured in this week's episode of Jazz Night in America, recorded at the 2017 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest — each a cultural ambassador as well as a cosmopolitan, with the elusive ability to bring any audience along for the ride.
For many jazz fans, Cyrille Aimée is the more familiar of the two. Born in France to French-Dominican parentage, she made her name as a specialist in "gypsy swing," the style epitomized in the '30s by guitarist Django Reinhardt. Her band features two virtuoso guitarists, Michael Valeanu and Adrien Moignard, and she favors the lissome bounce prized by the hot-jazz revivalist crowd. But Aimée looks well beyond Django for her repertoire: In the episode, you'll hear her delighting the San Jose audience with a medley of Michael Jackson's hits.
You'll also hear Daymé Arocena, a powerhouse vocalist from Cuba, and one of the standout new voices of the last several years in any genre. (If you've seen Arocena's gripping Tiny Desk Concert from last year, you won't need much more convincing.) Drawing mainly from her fine recent album Cubafonía, she brought Afro-Cuban fire to the San Jose stage — performing not only traditionalist fare like "Eleggua" but also playful hybrids like "Mambo Na' Mà," which blends Cuban clave with New Orleans parade rhythm.
There are plenty of clear differences between Arocena and Aimée, whose vocal styles can, respectively, make you think of molten earth or a summer breeze. But each artist is exploring jazz from a personal vantage, at an extremely high level of achievement. Both went over well in San Jose, and the smart money says they'll do the same in this episode of Jazz Night.