When the musical ensemble sports the name Nishi la Tremenda y Sus Aliados, I can only wonder who forgot to add the exclamation point. This vibrant quintet—one vocalist and four instrumentalists—presented its intoxicating array of musical styles revisioned with the flair and rhythmic panache of Latin American jazz in concert Friday at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Hillcrest.Nishi la Tremenda is the dramatic soprano Anishka Lee-Skorepa and her allies are pianist Justin Hansen, bassist Tamara Paige, flutist Lionel Avila, and percussionist Ruben Hernandez-Diaz. On Friday’s bracing, eclectic program, their repertory spanned art songs from Mexico, Germany, Cuba, and America; grand opera; jazz; ska, and for good measure the Great American Songbook.
Opening the program with Ernesto Lecuona’s “Siboney,” the composer’s salute to his native Cuba before colonization, vocalist Lee-Skorepa and drummer Hernandez-Diaz offered a dueling, brassy invention on Lecuona’s tune before the rest of the team jumped in to make this an arresting prelude to a rich evening. Lee-Skorepa’s ardent take on the Gershwins’ “Embraceable You” included a verse in Spanish translation and proved deliciously uptempo, with smart flute embellishments by Avila and insistent, stylish percussion from Hernandez-Diaz.
The ensemble’s transcendent account of “Sure on This Shining Night,” one of Samuel Barber’s impeccable art songs, honored both James Agee’s sublime text and the composer’s lithe melodies. In laudable dynamic contrast, Lee- Skorepa, guest vocalist Lia Adams, and the instrumental allies pulled out all of the stops for Mexican composer Augustin Lara’s beloved ballad “Granada.” The opulent prowess of the Lee-Skorepa’s high register easily soared over the instruments’ brilliant, pulsing accompaniment, and Adams confidently matched her dynamic interpretation.
As someone who has done his share of vocal accompanying in the day, I thought I knew the range of art song composers, but the 20th-century Mexican composer Salvador Moreno proved a delightful new discovery. Lee-Skorepa revealed the poignant depths of Moreno’s songs “Definición” and “Cementerio en la nieve.”
From another realm entirely, the music of the Argentine ska band Los Fabulosos Cadillacs churns up more earthy emotions. From the band’s song “Hoy lloré cancion,” Lee-Skorepa skillfully brought in the audience to sing its short refrain in traditional call and response fashion to create rollicking contrast between her Johannes Brahms romantic lied “Von ewiger Liebe” and her compelling, dramatic account of Giuseppe Verdi’s searing aria “Pace, pace mio dio” from his opera La Forza del destino.
The novelty of Claude Bolling’s 1973 Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio may have worn off, but the suite remains a charming, beautifully crafted work, and La Tremenda’s four instrumentalists gave charged, ebullient accounts of Bolling’s first two movements, “Baroque and Blue” and “Sentimentale.” Kudos to Hansen’s impeccable of keyboard finesse and Paige’s vibrant saucy bass lines.
This concert was a presentation of Front Street Productions at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego on Friday, September 22, 2023.