Jazz Album of the Week: In Spirit, an Anthology from Lili Añel

Apr 8, 2019

April 8, 2019. Raised in Spanish Harlem, singer/songwriter and guitarist Lili Añel has always remained connected to, but never bound by, musical roots in Latin jazz. That Añel’s output over the past two-plus decades has been, progressively, more and more musically diverse is a testament to this.

But just in case you weren’t yet sure, In Spirit, the newly released anthology with selections that span Añel’s career arc, confirms this versatility and the sheer stylistic breadth of her oeuvre.

The first cut, “Another Place, Another Time,” a bossa tune from 2017’s album of the same name, features Philadelphia treasure, Larry McKenna, on tenor saxophone. No one outside of Stan Getz accompanies a bossa nova singer like Larry McKenna; it’s as though Añel and McKenna have worked tireless nights in the lab distilling the very essence of Getz and Gilberto’s bossa nova—except the effortlessness of the sound belies this fantastical notion. When asked about the way she and McKenna vibe on the bossa tunes, Añel said, “I could not imagine it sounding any other way.”

Also reprised from Another Place, Another Time is “I Don’t Care (Groucho’s Blues),” a tune Lili co-wrote with her twin sister, Barbara. Anel’s voice here, and elsewhere, is as forthright as her lyrics, refreshing because it is free of the affectations other singers too frequently adopt to sound like other, more recognizable voices. It’s actually quite hard to peg who, if anyone, Lili Añel sounds like, and that’s the way she seems to want it.

“Something to Do,” cherry-picked from 2013’s I Can See Bliss from Here, takes us back to Añel’s childhood on 110th St. in Spanish Harlem, where money may have been tight but the son montunos and the cha chas were always in surplus. So full of nostalgia, candor, and self-effacing humor, the lyrics here might, for the Broadway fan, call to mind the title track from Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights.

If you think you might dig these tunes, you ought to know: Not only does Ms. Añel reprise them on In Spirit, she also played each one live at WRTI’s Performance Studio last year. Don’t worry if you missed it— all that great content can be viewed in full video and audio on WRTI’s VuHaus channel!