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CD reviews

New York Times News Service

Leslie Grace, by Leslie Grace

Leslie Grace

Leslie Grace

Top Stop

Over the last decade, bachata has been a monopoly, or at best, an oligopoly. Aventura, the onetime Bronx boy band, effectively conquered the genre in the early 2000s, updating this Dominican romantic folk form with contemporary hip-hop attitude. It’s held tight to the throne, even after the frontman, Romeo Santos, pursued a solo career, and two other members formed Vena, a group with a new singer.

It’s been difficult for young singers to break through, but Prince Royce, a minor-leaguer down to his name, cut through in 2010 with a bachata cover of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me. Choosing this surefire classic as an introduction was smart, a nod to the wide age range of bachata’s fans and also its commitment to classic pop song structure.

Three years later Prince Royce is the genre’s titan. The team that orchestrated his ascent, the executive producers Sergio George and Gregory Elias, is now trying a second round with Leslie Grace, a female singer in a genre that has lately had very little room for women, if any at all.

Grace’s bachata roll-out began with a slick version of the Shirelles’ Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow that traveled between Spanish and English, pop and bachata. Her amiable self-titled album also has a cover of the Ronettes’ Be My Baby — same shtick. Both, though, suffer from mostly characterless singing, as if out of extreme deference to the source material.

In 2009, Grace released an all-over-the-place album, Pasion — ballads, Latin rock, club music, none of it sticking. The new album is more coherent, even if Grace has a sultry voice that the genre doesn’t always support. On No Me Arrepiento, she leans heavy into R&B inflections, and she sounds strongest on Odio No Odiarte, one of the most traditional songs.

But unlike with Prince Royce’s album, the minders are hedging their bets here. There’s Take Me Away, a benign club song, and No Te Rindas, a slightly less benign club song. And one of the most striking moments is Adios Corazon, a big, brassy midtempo Diane Warren ballad that gives Grace another direction to try should bachata’s glass ceiling remain unbroken.

— Jon Caramanica, NY Times News Service

Live Today

Derrick Hodge

Blue Note

The first word in the title of Live Today, Derrick Hodge’s adroitly designed debut album, is intended as a verb, which makes the phrase an imperative. This becomes obvious on the title track, thanks to some beatific free-association from the rapper Common — but it’s also clear enough in context. Hodge, a bassist with roots in gospel, jazz and R&B, comes bearing earnest intentions and a glow of transparent optimism.

If you know his name, you probably know the Robert Glasper Experiment, a modern-day jazz-meets-soul cohort that counts him as a core member. You may know his work with Common, or with the trumpeter Terence Blanchard in the band that toured behind the R&B heartthrob Maxwell a few years ago. Anyway, Live Today can feel like the triangulation of all these data points: It’s an album of clear convictions but hazy definitions, which is partly the point.

Beyond the essential bedrock of groove, and the earthy authority of Hodge’s electric bass playing, you won’t find a single through-line. There are bouncy tracks made only with the drummer Mark Colenburg and the trumpeter Keyon Harrold, multi-tracked into a chorus. There’s a love song performed by the singer-songwriter Alan Hampton with a string quartet. There’s a version of the Doxology featuring the organist Travis Sayles, who makes no attempt to drag it outside the church. Another track with Sayles, Message of Hope, has the gleam of a pop-fusion tune by Marcus Miller.

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