JAZZ FROM THE LATIN SIDE
CD Reviews by jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil
March 12, 2016
Jazz has influenced music worldwide. It’s inspirational to discover sweet, surprise packages of well-rounded and complex musical expressions. I recently received a slew of recordings by a variety of Latin artists. Here is American jazz represented by many who have migrated from other countries in pursuit of their dreams. Read all about Fernando Huergo from Argentina with his rock/funk/fusion/folkloric jazz roots; San Francisco based Jemal Ramierez featuring internationally acclaimed vibe master, Warren Wolf; the Trio Da Paz, the Nonch Harpin’ group and Buyepongo’s odd mix of afro-Cuban, Spanish hip hop and pop grooves; Renato Braz with his haunting Brazilian vocals; Mike Freeman’s tribute to Cal Tjader. Finally, and for good measure, female pianist/American composer Leslie Pintchik offers a new CD titled “True North” with Latin overtones in some of her arrangements. Enjoy!
FERNANDO HUERGO – “HASHTAG”
Fernando Huergo, electric bass; Yulia Musayelyan, flute; Rick Dimuzio, tenor saxophone; Leo Genovese, piano/Fender Rhodes/Electric piano; Franco Pinna, drums.
Fernando Huergo’s recording showcases his composer skills. This electric bassist and Berklee educator has composed eight out of the twelve songs on this project. His writing is provocative and beautiful, steeped in Argentinean Tango, Folk music and American jazz.
Gathering a handful of carefully picked musicians, the first thing I noticed was the fullness of their sound. At times they seem to be more than a septet. Each masterful in his own right, they competently represent Huergo’s “Hashtag” project. Rick Dimuzo’s tenor saxophone work is formidable and always uplifting. This production is both robust and improvisational in a Modern Jazz kind of way. Dimuzo first grabs my undivided attention on Huergo’s lovely composition titled, “Cerca”. The emotion that these musicians put into that ballad is palpable.
On Thelonius Monk’s “Evidence” the drummer, Franco Pinna, is outstanding. He is from the city of Tucuman located in Northern Argentina. That part of the country is rich in Folkloric music and Franco has mastered those homeland rhythms. The arrangement of tempos and the combination of cultures gives Leo Genovese an opportunity to stretch the boundaries of his piano excellence. You also hear Pinna’s rhythm mastery of these Argentine roots on “Trunca”, another original composition by Huergo.
The blend of Yulia Musayelyan’s flute and Dimuzo’s saxophone meld together like oil and fire, creating a hot, harmonic mix of reeds that enhance these arrangements, along with the addition of electric piano and sometimes harmonizing with the bass. The only female in the group, Musayelyan, brings Russian musicality to the ensemble.
Huergo seems to have been richly influenced by Jaco Pastorious, who we lost way too soon back in 1987. This talented Argentinian composer celebrates ‘Weather Report’ with a tune he simply calls, “Weather” as a sort of tribute to that jazz fusion era and a band that tore down musical boundaries in the 70’s and 80’s. This CD surprised me. I had expected a more Latino approach, but Huergo lifted and entertained me with his well-constructed songs and funk/rock fusion overtones. Don’t get it twisted. He does not leave ‘straight ahead’ or his Latin roots unattended on the doorstep. These musicians play it all with competence and emotional dynamics.
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JEMAL RAMIREZ – “POMPONIO”
First Orbit Sounds Music
Jemal Ramirez, drums & cymbals; Warren Wolf, marimba & vibraphone; Howard Wiley, soprano/alto/tenor saxophones; Joel Behrman, trumpet; Matthew Clark, piano; John Shifflett, double bass; John Santos, percussion.
Drummer, Jemal Ramirez, offers a high velocity album of Salsa and Mambo music with repetitious undertones that build tension in the music and a platform for some stellar jazz musicians to cut loose and fly free. Like a moving pendulum, the drums and the repetitive chords encourage hips to sway and feet to dance. Horn lines float in thick harmony above the rhythm section. I love the addition of vibes and marimba to this mix, featuring internationally heralded Warren Wolf. The title tune, “Pomponio” is a Bobby Hutcherson composition that gives Wolf a platform to introduce himself on the vibraphone as cut number one.
Pomponio is a name for an early California rebel or bandit, according to Ramierez’s linear notes, and it’s also an Italian name. In Latin the name means “lover of grandeur and the open plains.”
Ramirez includes this research of the name because his DNA traces roots back to Italy, and also Mexico, American Indian, Spanish and French. Consequently, this record project brings together an assortment of players and tunes that reflect his heritage and embraces the diversity that only America celebrates. Take that diversity, mix in the freedom of jazz music, and you have an album worthy of celebration, full of grandeur and the openness that cultural creativity brings.
Ramirez has pulled jazz tunes from some of the major jazz composers of our time including Wayne Shorter, Bobby Watson, Hutcherson, Tony Williams, Kenny Garret and more. The arrangements are tightly produced without suffocating the freedom that jazz inspires. Clark’s piano playing is appropriately matched with Shifflett’s strong acoustic bass. Together with Ramirez, they lay down a strong rhythm section. Wiley brings magic on his saxophones, waving fluid notes like a magic wand above the musical excitement. Each soloist builds on the rooted music and brings pleasure to this listener’s ears. The drums are mixed beautifully and dominate this recording in a natural and unobtrusive way.
Ramirez is definitely the guiding light and flash of spirit that leads this band and applies just the right amount of sass and virtuosity to inspire excellence. Santos sparks the scene with his percussive riffs and supports the rhythm in all the right ways. This is a recording, produced by Ramirez and Wolf, racing fresh out the gate like a prime stallion, hot to trot and entertaining all the way to the finish line.
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TRIO DA PAZ – “30”
Romero Lubambo, acoustic & electric guitars, Nilson Matta, acoustic bass, Duduka Da Fonseca, drums.
Although the style of guitar playing is nothing like Wes Montgomery, the sound emanating off of this recording reminds me of this great master. Here are three Brazilian musicians who have been playing together for three decades.
Consequently, this album is titled in honor of their long time collaboration, “30”.
There’s a happy feeling of joy and exuberance for life folded into this repertoire. I regret that whoever mixed and recorded this session did not pay more attention to the bass drum. The importance of that steady heartbeat in the music is unfortunately overlooked, although the upper sticks, brushes and high-hat are loud and dominant. For me, that is somewhat troubling. All three musicians are fine composers and have written and arranged nine of the ten songs herein contained. I found Lubambo’s “Outono” to be quite beautiful and melodically pleasing to the ear. Baden Powell’s “Samba Triste” is exciting and speeds along at a challenging pace, showcasing the mastery of all three musicians as fingers fly and drum sticks roll. I thought the chord changes in Matta’s “Aguas Brasileiras” were lovely, and I waited impatiently for him to solo. I was somewhat disappointed with the shortness of his featured spot. Lubambo has written a piece entitled “Sweeping the Chimney” that reminds me of a rushing freight train, with Matta’s trap drum percussion rushing along at a fast clip and Lubambo’s fingers keeping pace with a swiftness hard to imagine. I was really excited to hear them let Da Fonseca loose on his drums for an exciting, but too short solo. I thought the drummer’s “Flying Over Rio” would have been an uptempo piece, but instead it’s a mellow, mid-tempo and delightful groove that makes me want to cha cha across the room. One of the more interesting compositions was the final one, composed by Matta that quite suddenly changed tempo from ballad to double time, giving Da Fonseca a chance to show off all his drum abilities with an illustrious solo. All in all, this is an easy listening experience infused with the energy of old friends who are comfortable playing together and bursting with composition creativity.
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NONCH HARPIN’ – “NATIVE SONS”
Nonch Harpin’ Records
Shawn Ellis, double bass; Andy Markham, Elec & Acoustic guitars; Daneil Raynaud, keyboards/piano; Alan Spearot, drums; Chini Tran, tenor & soprano saxophones.
The first thing I noticed was the fullness of this five-man-group. At times, the arrangements almost took on a big band ampleness. For example, on cut #4, “Li’l Antonin Scalia” sounded more like a lush orchestration than just a simple five-piece combo. This group is a blend of funk, acid and electric fusion jazz that defies categorization. They like to refer to themselves as a “do-it-yourself” kind of group or DIY. The title of this group of excellent musicians was pulled from a jargon supposedly only developed and spoken in Northern California called “Boontling”. The group name, ‘Nonch Harpin’, is pulled from that idiom. It’s a term that loosely could be translated to ‘dirty talk’. But there is nothing dirty, muddy, or low-down in this music. It’s fresh, crystal clean and uplifting. Take “Melody for A Woodland Cabana” for example. It’s beautifully melodic and full of percussive verve by Alan Spearot. Chini Tran, their saxophonist, composed this tune and the whole group got together in a free form musical meeting to arrange it. Most of the arrangements on this creative endeavor are by Markham and the entire group. Guitarist ‘Markham” has also composed cuts 1,4,5,6,7,8 and 10. The mixture of Shawn Ellis’s upright bass with the electronics of Markham’s guitars and Daniel Raynaud’s keyboards has a rich, grounding effect. Spearot is ever-present with his drums not only holding the group in place like Elmer’s glue, but he also is very exploratory and creatively complimentary. The album artwork by Tom Fedro captivated me and made me open this CD package before the stack of others on my reviewer’s desk. His artwork is striking. Perhaps the group best described their music by saying:
“We aim to make odd meters groovable, to infuse Americana modes with downtown formalism, and to sneak into Modern Jazz through the back door.”
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BUYEPONGO – “TODO MUNDO”
Core members of Buyepongo are: Jorge “Yuka” Vallejo, guitar/accordion/clarinet/vocals; Randy Modesto, bass; Angel Hernandez, saxophone/flute/concha; Edgar “Meshlee” Modesto, conguira/ guachraca/vocals; Kris Castro, keyboards; Larry Harvey, percussionist/kpanlogo/ashiko/conga; Fernanda Ulibarre, backup vocals; Intro/outro beats produced by Artos of Westology.
This is the debut album release for the Los Angeles based group, “Buyepongo”. The first cut opens with spoken-word over electronic chord changes. A voice tells us, “Tomorrow won’t be the same as yesterday” and encourages us to “appreciate the gift of life and the gift of death; to laugh/love/eat and take care of one another.” My interest is peeked. The second cut begins with drums and soon the Spanish voices bounce and dance above a Latin groove. Not being a Spanish speaking person, I do not know what the lyrics are saying. According to the linear notes, Buyepongo translates to “causing a ruckus” or a riotous mash-up of influences. They claim to be mixing hip-hop, punk rock, funk and jazz in a stew of styles, with music being the common denominator. For this reviewer, their music is way too simple to exemplify the wildly creative freedom and technical prowess of jazz. On the other hand, this group has incorporated a Pan-Latin sound with lots of percussion and vocals used as chants. The musicality of their project is limited, although it does exhibit a danceable rhythm throughout, relying on percussion to carry the project along with repetitive voicings. Buyepongo claims to employ an experimental technique as their base, developing this sound after backpacking through Belize and Guatemala. You can hear the folk music influences throughout, like on Track 7. They layer the music with Latino chants in Spanish and danceable rhythms along with genre smashing sounds and effects. At a grunge party or dance hall, I believe they would be well received. But from a purely musical standpoint, they leave me with much to be desired. I don’t hear the ‘funk’ or the ‘hip-hop’ they claim to be incorporating, unless they’re referring to the ‘loop’ techniques they employ. I do admit, their sound is uniquely their own. I identify quite a bit of Afro-Cuban influence and some merengue-like grooves. They sometimes incorporate an accordion sound. Over-all, there is a feeling of happiness and life celebration throughout. I found the artwork of their CD jacket by Alfonso Aceves, of @kalli arte, to be compelling and the artist is to be congratulated. I wish the music had been as colorful and intricate as that artwork.
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RENATO BRAZ – “SAUDADE”
Living Music Label
Renato Braz, guitar/vocals; Paul Winter, soprano sax/producer; Dori Caymmi, guitar; Theo de Barros, guitar; Don Grusin, piano; Paul Sullivan, piano; Nelson Ayres, piano; Ivan Lins, keyboard/voice; Eliot Wadopian, bass; Siza͂o Machado, bass; Nilson Matta, bass; Sergio Brandao, bass; Eugene Friesen, cello; Paul McCandless, oboe/English horn; Gordon Gottlieb, drums; Jamey Haddad, drums; Bré, percussion; Café, percussion; Toninho Ferragutti, accordion; Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble, chorus.
From the first strains of “Anabela” I am hypnotized by the haunting voice of Renato Braz. He has a smooth, melancholy, infectious style that heralds Brazilian culture with romantic, Portuguese tones. I don’t need to understand the lyrics, because the beauty of his voice and his emotional delivery says it all. At times his phrasing and tone reminds me of Nina Simone, especially on cut #8, “Chora Brasileira”.
This singer/guitarist has roots in all three of Brazil’s cultures; Indian, African and European. His parents are Guarani Indians from Mato Grosso. His mother remarried a Baiano from Bahia in the Northeast of Brazil where the African tradition is rooted deeply. Renato has lived many years in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He met Producer, Paul Winter, in 2004 and they have been working together ever since. On his first CD release in the U.S., he offers fifteen songs bred and beloved in Brazil. His elegant delivery entices you to love them too.
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MIKE FREEMAN – “Blue Tjade”
Mike Freeman, vibraphone, marimba, flexatone, kalimba; Jim Gailloreto, tenor saxophone/flute; Ruben Rodriguez, bass; Chembo Corniel, congas, bongos, campana, shekere percussion; Willie Martinez, drums, guiro, campana, maracas, claves.
Composer/vibraphonist, Mike Freeman, celebrates the Cal Tjader legacy with his project “Blue Tjade”. Freeman has embraced and nurtured Latin influence in his music for the past twenty years. This recording is a culmination of those twenty years featuring ten of his excellent original compositions. He’s surrounded himself with musicians who share his passion for Latin music and bring the fire and professional technique to make this project brilliant. The drummer, Willie Martinez, locks in the rhythm along with conga master, Chembo Corniel. They put the high polish on the grooves. The addition of flute and saxophone by Chicago’s esteemed reed player, Jim Gailloreto, is like putting custom rims on a highly prized and waxed low rider. Ruben Rodriguez builds the basement with his solid bass techniques. Freeman brings the Latin jazz vibe tradition front and center, parking it vividly and beautifully in our faces.
Mike Freeman is respected and known by fans worldwide for his affiliation and recordings with acclaimed Latin groups including Ray Mantilla’s Good Vibrations; Lucho Cueto’s all-star salsa group, Black Sugar, Son Boricua with Jose Mangual Jr., as well as the late Jimmy Sabater.
While the Salsa on this project is as hot as red chili peppers, at the same time the music is as smooth and sweet as crème caramel. Favorite tunes are the very joyful “Dance of the Dead”, “Pendulum”, “Making Conversation” (that makes my toes tap and hips wiggle), and the 6/8 tempo’d “Agua y Piedra”.
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LESLIE PINTCHIK – “TRUE NORTH”
Leslie Pintchik, piano; Scott Hardy, bass; Satoshi Takeishi, percussion; Steve Wilson, alto/soprano saxophones; Ron Horton, trumpet/flugelhorn.
Leslie Pintchik is a composer/pianist/arranger who leaves a feeling of open space in her work. Even the album cover seems to personify a space of openness, done in simple black and white with a lone figure walking the beach as if in meditation. The very first cut, “Let’s Get Lucky” seems to match this scene, giving me a chance to breathe in Pintchik’s talents on the eighty-eight keys. On this Samba, she has a way of establishing the composition’s melody and then inviting her fellow band mates to the forefront to solo and embellish the musical house she is building. Steve Wilson has a smooth, rich sound on saxophone and soars like a perusing bird above the solid rhythm section. He and Horton on trumpet (or sometimes flugelhorn), make lush harmony to implant the melody in my brain or to add soft and unobtrusive instrumental background voices as part of Pintchik’s smart arrangements. Pintchik has composed six of the ten songs on this body of art. She approaches each song with simplicity, deliberate timing and powerful emotion and technique. Her band members have been with her for some time and that breeds familiarity, comfort and style. Perhaps she explained it best when she said:
“I like to cook and my inner chef has a small, musical/gastronomic epiphany of sorts in the recording studio when it occurred to me that these marvelous musicians, so quick to respond to the feeling and character of each tune, worked their magic … like salt … they amplified the flavor of each tune…”
My favorite cuts are: “Let’s Get Lucky”, the highly spirited, “Crooked as a Dog’s Hind Legs”, her bluesy take on the old standard, “Falling In Love Again”, the Latin flavored original composition, “Discreet” and the ‘Live’ performance of “For All We Know” with an adhesive and beautiful bass line by Hardy that glues the trio together in a very solid way, along with Takeishi’s funky drum expertise.
Like the CD cover, with a crush of seagulls scattered across a gray sky, this album takes flight and lifts me when I listen.
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JAZZ VOICES SING IN THE NEW YEAR
March 1, 2016
Both people voices and instrumental voices are singing in the New Year of 2016. Here are some reviews of recently released and soon-to-be released jazz CDs. Jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil, shares her views about Lyn Stanley, duets by Wendy Pedersen and Jim Gasior, Socrates Garcia and his Latin Jazz Orchestra, Mel Carter, Cristian Perez, Todd Coolman and High Voltage featuring Henry Franklin, Carl Burnett, Bill Reid and Chuck Manning. Read all about it below.
LYN STANLEY – “Interludes”
A.T. Music LLC
Lyn Stanley, vocals/producer; Bill Cunliffe, piano; Mike Garson, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; John Chiodini, guitar; Ray Brinker, drums; Paul Kreibich, drums; Bob McChesney, trombone; Henrick Meurkens, harmonica; Brad Dutz, percussion; Cecilia Tsan, cello. Steve Rawlins, fingersnaps.
Cut one, “How Long Has This Been Going On?” features an exceptional trombone solo and accompaniment by Bob McChesney, who tastily compliments the lovely lounge singing of Lyn Stanley. Stanley has gathered a bouquet of sweet standards for this CD, and surrounded each flowery tune with colorful arrangements by some of the best jazz musicians on the West Coast jazz scene today. McChesney’s trombone solo on “Just One of those things” is played at a swift pace and once again grabs the spotlight. The production on this recording is outstanding. How can you miss with folks like Bill Cunliffe on piano, Chuck Berghofer on bass and Paul Kriebich on drums. Pianist, Tamir Hendleman had a hand in arranging some of these songs for Stanley. Guitarist John Chiodini has contributed as an arranger and is a welcome addition to the rhythm section with credits that read like the who’s who of jazz guitarists, having played with iconic jazz folks like Tony Bennett, Louis Bellson, Buddy DeFranco, Maynard Ferguson, Natalie Cole, Peggy Lee, Shirley Horn, Lainie Kazan, Hubert Laws and too many more to list here. Steve Rawlins and Cunliffe also arrange tunes, as well as adding their musician mastery to this record. I enjoyed hearing Artie Butler’s “It’s Crazy” composition that I hadn’t heard before, with Sammy Cahn’s moving lyrics and Meurkien’s warm harmonica solo. On this, her third CD release, Stanley wears a producer’s hat along with co-producers Steve Rawlins, Steve Genewick and Paul Tavenner. When a smooth, sultry vocalist such as Ms. Stanley surrounds herself with the best of the best musical accompaniment, she’s bound to have a successful, well-produced recording project.
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WENDY PEDERSEN & JIM GASIOR – “WE TWO”
Independent Record Label
Wendy Pedersen, vocals; Jim Gasior, piano.
Here is a straight-forward approach to jazz tunes offered in their simplistic form as a duo, featuring Pedersen vocally with her accompanist, Jim Gasior on grand piano. I enjoyed their interpretation of Monk’s “Round Midnight” with Gasior’s bell tones on the keys and Pedersen floating atop with sadness squeezed out of every phrase; every note. Here is a vocalist that knows how to sell-a-song, with terrific range and pitch. The pianist is a distinctive artist himself, creating a jazzy, richly classical stage for both the singer and himself to be spotlighted. I never heard her sing the same thing twice. That’s one of the marks of a true jazz singer. The dozen songs they have picked are familiar, like Dakota Staten’s hit record, “The Late Late Show”. This duo makes the song their own. Wendy Pedersen is soulful, knows just when to ‘swing’ the vocals and is emotionally connected to each lyric. Gasior keeps perfect time and compliments the vocalist with strong support and musicality. This was an artistic listening experience, not just another female singer claiming to sing jazz. Pedersen is a jazz vocalist who can sing anything, but has a respectful allegiance to the Great American Songbook. The completely clever way they arranged “My Favorite Things” in 11/8 meter makes for a pleasant surprise on this musical journey. Pedersen sings the song down and scats her way across the strange, but pleasant tempo, with no compunction and great breath control. “Jitterbug Waltz” is no easy tune to sing and Gasior puts a bit of Thelonius Monk in his piano playing, with a strong bass hand that roots the tune. The two tamper with time on purpose to express the lyrics. Pedersen sings “Besame Mucho” in Spanish and with much verve and flair. I bet this duo is fun to see in person. You’ll probably have to go to South Florida, where they have quite a large and loyal following.
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MEL CARTER – “CONTINUES”
Mel Carter, vocals: John Rodby, piano/electric piano/synthesized strings; Ron Hershewe & Grant Geissman, guitar; James Leary, bass; Steve Pemberton & Mark Stevens, drums; Harry Kim, 1st Trumpet/flugelhorn; Nolan Shaheed, 3td trumpet/flugelhorn; Wendell Kelly & Duane Benjamin, trombone; Robbie Hioki, bass trombone; Fred Jackson, 1st Alto sax/flute; George Shelby, 2nd Alto Saxophone; Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone and solos on “Talk To Me” and “If I didn’t Care”; Louis Van Taylor, baritone saxophone. Special Guest: Lenny Welch, vocals.
Mel Carter’s rich tenor voice has only become stronger with the years. On this self-produced recording project, he has chosen a bushel basket full of oldies-but-goodies and refreshed them with his own unique and personal style. On “Just in Time” embellished with a big band arrangement, he adds the rarely heard verse of the song and his crystal-clear tones prove his vocals are still powerful and plush with emotion. “Pledging My Love” was made popular in the 50’s by Johnny Ace and Carter does a superb job of reinventing this old doo-wop, R&B classic tune into an emotional ballad. The gospel song made hugely popular by Mahalia Jackson, “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands,” is arranged with a big band background and it ‘Swings.’ John Rodby is credited for all the arrangements, with the exception of “The Legends of Rock & Roll” that was arranged by Eric Butler and composed by Carter.
No newcomer to the business of music, Mel Carter has been signed to a list of record labels over the past half a century. It was the iconic Quincy Jones who first signed him to Mercury records. He was later signed to Phillips, and then Sam Cooke’s ‘Derby label’, that produced Carter’s first big hit record titled, “When A Boy Falls In Love.” This song soared up the music charts in the U.S. and the U.K., becoming #1 on the West Coast. He also had releases on Imperial records, the Liberty label and more. Carter traveled with Dick Clark’s popular Caravan of Stars and has performed in several stage plays, films and television productions as both an actor and singer. In 1985, his album “Willing” won him a Grammy nomination for Best Male Gospel Performance. His voice crosses genres and defies classification. He sings Jazz as easily as he embraces Gospel or Pop music. This album showcases a rich heritage in music as he interprets classic songs by some of his favorite artists including Little Willie John, The Ink Spots, Annie Laurie, Ivory Joe Hunter and more. It’s a pleasant and nostalgic experience for someone like me, who remembers those classic popular songs from the 50’s and 60’s. But it will certainly please the more youthful ears, bringing to the forefront songs that have strongly stood the test of time for over half a century, the same way this artist has.
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SOCRATES GARCIA LATIN JAZZ ORCHESTRA – “BACK HOME”
MAA Record label
Socrates Garcia, composer/arranger/conductor/producer/guitar; Manuel Tejada, piano; Pengbian Sang, bass; Steve Kovalcheck, guitar; Helen De La Rosa, drums; Felix “Abuelo” Garcia, tambura, congas, atabales & vocals; Rafael Almengod, atabales, tambu; Josue Reynoso, guira; Otoniel Nicolas, timbales; Wil Swindler, alto, soprano, flute; Briana Harris, alto, flute; Kenyon Brenner, tenor, flute, clarinet; Brielle Frost, flute; Joel Harris, tenor, clarinet; Ryan Middagh, baritone, bass clarinet; Brad Goode, Dave Rajewski, Jordan Skomal, Miles Roth, Trumpets/flugalhorns; Joe Chisholm, Frank Cook, Jonathan Zimny, & Guillermo Rivera: Trombones; Gary Mayne, bass trombone; Hovernys Santana, Lia Nova & Rafael Almengod, vocals.
This recording is smart, well arranged and mixed to perfection. The percussion stands out as strong as the horn lines and draws me in from the very first few bars. All the music on this project is composed, arranged and conducted by Socrates Garcia. Believe me, the arrangements are dynamic and beautiful. The orchestration is lush and the musicians are masterfully articulate.
Garcia claims his music to be “autobiographical” as in “… a point of arrival and departure, arriving to a place where I could combine my heritage with the aesthetics of jazz; departure, towards a promising future for this symbiotic relationship.”
On “Vantage Point,” stewing in ‘merengue’ and allowing Felix ‘Abuelo’ Garcia to flex his percussive muscles, I am hooked. The rhythms are contagious and make me want to dance and celebrate life. Garcia brings his Dominican Republic roots to the party. The musicians sparkle like stars over the cities of Santo Domingo or Santiago de los Caballeros. Each song has a generous story included in the linear notes to explain what prompted that particular composition. There is mention of ‘bachata’ being a type of music currently accepted worldwide that grew, like the USA blues, from the underground. For many years, bachata was considered a second-class music. It is represented prominently in the title tune, “Back Home” that Garcia claims is a brief journey through his musical career. He has bridged cultures, using pillars of Heavy Metal, Dominican folk music and jazz to support his extravagantly structured arrangements and compositions. Because of the clarity of this recording, I must give credit to Garcia and Greg Heimbecker for their mixologist expertise and to Heimbecker for the final mastering; beautifully executed!
Socrates Garcia is the Director of Music Technology at University of Northern Colorado where he teaches courses in Music Technology, Digital Composition and Recording Techniques. This is also where he recorded this project. Dr. Garcia’s credits include the album Yo Por Ti by Puerto Rican artist Olga Tañon, Grammy Award winner of Merengue Album of the Year 2001; musical director/keyboardist for Los Ilegales in their 1997-1998 Latin American tour; keyboardist for multi-Grammy winner Juan Luis Guerra; and guest performer with the Dominican Republic’s National Symphony Orchestra, among others. His first solo CD titled “Suenos”, was released in 2005. This contemporary jazz big band project is bound to be another feather in the cap of a scholar and creative genius who brings multi-culture and flair to the big band stage. You can find Scores/Parts available at http://www.uncjazzpress.com.
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CRISTIAN PEREZ – “Anima Mundi”
Christian Perez, nylon string guitar/charango/mandolin/elec guitar/ steel string guitar/ fretless guitar/ bombo/percussion; Yana Hristova, flute/piccolo; Emmanuel Trifilio, bandoneon; Daniel Brown, double bass; Joe McCarthy, drums/percussion; Bruno Lucini, drums and percussion; Devree Lewis, cello; Lynn Veronneau, vocals; Victor Provost, steel pan; Haroon Alam, tablas; Kevin Elam, backup vocals/low whistle.
This is a very acoustic album featuring Cristian Perez on nylon string guitar throughout and a variety of other string instruments. The first cut has a haunting melody and Perez employs charango on this Daniel Robles composition that celebrates the Condor. Constant on this recording are the animal sounds of Earth that emanate from various instrumentation. You immediately get the impression that Perez is an environmentalist. Yana Hristova brings her complimentary flute to the party and also a whistle high piccolo, while Joe McCarthy adds sparse drums and percussion on this first cut. Daniel Brown has a brief, but effective bass solo on “El Condor Pasa” and this first tune sets the tone for the entire album. Perez tributes the Earth, titling his musical production ‘Anima Mundi’ which translate from Latin as ‘Soul of the World’. Perez states in his linear notes:
“As natural creatures, our very lives are inherently intertwined with the forces of nature – a reality which has consistently shaped our religious, spirituality, art and music.”
This is not an album this writer would describe as ‘jazz’. It is more Eastern or Asian in musical influence and something you might hear on an Easy Listening radio station, World Music stations or even a popular radio station in India or the Middle East. Perez is the Argentinian composer featuring seven out of eleven original tunes on this musical work of art. His goal appears to be the combination of cultures with classical roots. This results in a tree of work where his compositions mirror nature in lovely ways. Some of his original titles are “The Flower I Never Gave You” (La Flor Que Nunca Te Di), “The Persistent Elephant,” “Journey of an Exhausted Penguin,” “Luna Firtiva” (Furtive Moon), “Hojas Podridas”(Rotten Leaves) and so on. Lynn Veronneau sounds vocally exquisite on a fresh arrangement of “Moon River.” All in all, Perez’s excellent guitar talents colorfully carry this project in string baskets twisted and braided with various cultures in the style of a pan-piper production. He also exhibits his talents on several string instruments that uniquely color each composition, along with a rainbow of talented musicians who amply support his musical ideas.
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TODD COOLMAN – “Collectables” featuring a trio called, “Trifecta”
Sunnyside Record Label
Todd Coolman, bass; Bill Cunliffe, piano; Dennis Mackrel, drums.
This CD begins in a very Ahmad Jamal-ish way with both composition and production featuring Jamal’s style and tune, “New Rhumba”. From the first cut, you can feel the excitement of this trio. They are combustible with many explosions of brilliance. Every now and then I run across a recording where every tune knocks me out. This is that type of musical experience. Here is a piece of jazz art soaked in creativity, using master manipulation of chords and cadences. Cunliff is a spectacular joy to listen to with his unexpected transpositions and improvisational arrangements that challenge the ears and the senses. Dennis Mackrel on drums is solid as Fort Knox and just as golden. Todd Coolman, the bassist and star of this production, swings hard and is melodic when it’s solo time. His catchy bass lines intricately support the groove on tunes like “You’re My Everything” by Harry Warren and Victor Feldman’s “Joshua” . The “Coolman” is always there, flush in your face, dynamic, but never intrusive.
Coolman claims to be a collector of sorts in various categories from books to watches. However, in this case he has a collected a group of amazing compositions to interpret with a trio he labels, “Trifecta”.
As he explained, “…the prefix “tri” suggest ‘three’ but “Trifecta” is a term derived from thoroughbred horse racing and Pari-Mutuel betting. Since this trio first performed several years ago in Saratoga Springs, New York, home of one of the world’s major thoroughbred racing tracks, and this very recording took place in Saratoga Springs, the name seems fitting.”
If I were giving out stars or accolades, on a scale of one to ten, in this reviewer’s vision, the Trifecta recording is an eleven.
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HIGH VOLTAGE – A Tribute to McCoy Tyner
Bill Heid, piano; Henry Franklin, bass; Carl Burnett, drums; Special Guest: Chuck Manning, soprano & tenor saxophones.
Henry “Skipper” Franklin continues to build his jazz label catalogue with this new “High Voltage” release featuring old friends and seasoned veterans of jazz intent on celebrating McCoy Tyner and introducing us to the composer skills of Bill Heid. The trio opens with “Brother George,” a laid back groove and memorable melody that makes you want to whistle along; shades of “Tin Tin Deo.” Heid has a crisp, clean approach on the upper register of the piano, with busy fingers tinkling the piano keys like waterfall droplets. There is something refreshing about his playing. On this first cut, Franklin’s solo is a crowd-pleaser, with his deep contra bass always present and supportive in the background, but magnificent when upfront and relevant as a solo artist himself. On heid’s composition, “Unit 8”, Chuck Manning leads the way with gusto and verve on his tenor saxophone to establish the melody. The trio follows brightly, marching full force ahead, waving flags of musical brilliance with Carl Burnett propelling the group on drums, straight-ahead, and putting the ‘con brio’ in the piece. Heid utilizes all eighty-eight keys on this one, flaunting his piano skills in a polished, delightful way. The mix is so clean that I feel I am sitting front-row-center at the jazz club enjoying these gentlemen in person. Having worked with West Coast engineer Nolan Shaheed myself, I’m not surprised at the clarity his skills bring to this recording. Both the McCoy Tyner songs they feature, “The Greeting” and “Mellow Minor” are performed in majestic ways, like the kings of instrumentation that they are. I’m sure McCoy would be well pleased. Franklin has contributed an original composition titled, Under Tanzanian Skies” to this project and Manning immediately captures my attention with his sweet, sexy, soprano saxophone solo. Heid’s right hand continues to mesmerize in the upper register and he gets to dig deeply into his blues roots on this tune. This is a beautifully produced piece of art from beginning to end. You are guaranteed nearly fifty minutes of continuous, jazzy listening pleasure. This treasure is scheduled for an April, 2016 release date.
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