Turn On the YouTube and Tune In to Martina DaSilva

An early stalwart of the new Hot Jazz movement, she is one of the more significant millennial artists who treat YouTube as a legitimate performance medium — much as radio was used 80 to 90 years ago.

Martina DaSilva and bassist Dan Chmielinski of ChimyTina. @jerrellephant

Ten years ago, a friend sent me a YouTube link to a short performance that was both modest and highly impressive. Shot with a camera phone, it’s a fuzzy and incomplete video of three young musicians at a kitchen table, two of whom I was already familiar with. 

Mike Davis, a gifted trumpeter who has since become known as a master of pre-modern brass styles, is on the left, while Jerron Paxton, easily my favorite younger blues player, is on the right. In the center sits Martina DaSilva, a singer new to me at the time. Singing mostly in harmony, they deliver about 90 seconds of the 1926 jazz standard “’Deed I Do.” No one is trying to pull focus, all three are sitting down, and yet Ms. DaSilva is the one who captivates your eyes and ears.  

All three artists were and are early stalwarts of the nascent movement that we were then starting to refer to as the new Hot Jazz. Ms. DaSilva, in particular, is also one of the more significant millennial artists who treat YouTube as a legitimate performance medium — much as singers and bandleaders regarded radio 80 to 90 years ago.  

Since then, she’s gone on to work into other mediums and other musical styles. Certainly in more recent videos she’s grown more comfortable being the center of attention — now she stands up, at least, and she dresses both to kill and to thrill. In dozens if not hundreds of songs on YouTube, she seemingly never repeats an outfit. She also frequently plays guitar, ukulele, and other instruments while singing. 

In the years leading up to the pandemic, Ms. DaSilva was a consistent and welcome presence in the New York clubs — Dizzy’s, Birdland, Joe’s Pub. She’s assembled several different ensembles, which are generally built on the idea of duos. The Ladybugs consists of two singers (Kate Davis was her original co-star; more recently it’s Vanessa Perea) with horns and rhythm. ChimyTina, which has just released a new album, is essentially Ms. DaSilva and bassist Dan Chmielinski.

During the pandemic, Ms. DaSilva created more videos, retreating back to living rooms and kitchens rather than filming in clubs. Like many other artists in recent months (Steven Bernstein, Harry Allen), she’s been recording copiously, with at least four albums in the last 18 months.  

“Constellation,” the latest from ChimyTina, is an outstanding effort — perhaps Ms. DaSilva’s most ambitious — in which the voice-bass duo is joined by four other players on various tracks. There are songs from the Great American Songbook, like “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” by the Gershwins, but also divergent Great American songwriters such as Hank Williams (“Cold, Cold Heart”) and Antonio Carlos Jobim (“As Praias Desertas — The Deserted Beaches”). 

The latter also speaks to Ms. DaSilva’s Latinx heritage and her propensity for singing in Portuguese and Spanish. Here and on the last track, “Lush Life,” Mr. Chmielinski plays arco and they’re joined by cellist Ken Kubota, who conjoin to form a very intimate string section that erects a shimmering background behind Ms. Da Silva’s translucent contralto. Vibraphonist Joel Ross finds a whole other way to shimmer in her background on her original, “My Universe,” while Grace Kelly wails along with the duo on her alto saxophone on the fundamental 1924 blues, “Trouble in Mind.” 

The five-song EP “Martina & Casey” is a collaboration with bassist Casey Abrams. This is not, fundamentally, a voice-bass duo like ChimyTina, but a vocal harmony project. Mr. Abrams sings out with a rough, folksy baritone, helping Ms. DaSilva to create Trios with other singers including Hannah Gill. She has a knack for recording so-called covers that I prefer to the originals, or at least will play more often. 

That applies to “Stand By Me,” the first track on “Martina & Casey,” and also to “It’s My Party,” which opens “Living Room 1.” The latter reprises Lesley Gore’s handclaps but is far more joyful than the 1963 hit single, using a New Orleans beat, supplied by drummer Sammy Miller’s band The Congregation, and a trombone solo by “Tall Sam” Crittenden. The original now falls on the ears as comparatively dated teen angst, whereas Ms. DaSilva’s performance is more like a party in which everybody is crying yet dancing at the same time.

I confess to being favorably disposed toward Ms. DaSilva’s efforts not least because she resurrects favorite songs that everyone else has forgotten. There’s Steve LaVere’s lovely “It’s All In Your Mind” (on “Constellations”), which we know from Sarah Vaughan and Jack Teagarden. And who can resist Danny Barker’s quintessential ode to the vagaries of veganism, “Save the Bones for Henry Jones.” She sings this in a Ladybugs trio with Vanessa Perea and another bassist-singer partner, the formidable Russell Hall, as a third voice in a very vigorous 2/4.  

Although ChimyTina and The Ladybugs are long-running ensembles for Ms. DaSilva, every new project seems to bring a new collaborator: Adam Neely, The Congregation, Postmodern Jukebox, Ricky Alexander, Tony Glausi, and the remarkable drummer-composer-bandleader Bryan Carter. One could spend many an enjoyable afternoon following her trail across YouTube and Apple Music. 

Her voice seems to work in any context, with any partners, on any song. Maybe there’s a song out there that Martina DaSilva can’t sing, or someone whom she can’t sing with, but I’d have to think hard to find them.

The New York Sun

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