UNEXPECTED AND UNINHIBITED ARTISTS SURPRISE US!

By Dee Dee McNeil

April 15, 2022 

MARCO PIGNATARO’S DREAM ALLIANCE AWAKENING – Zoho Records

Marco Pignataro, soprano, alto & tenor saxophones/poetry creator/arranger/composer; Kenny Werner, piano/back-up vocals/composer/arranger; Nadia Washington, guitar/vocals/arranger; Devon Gates, bass/vocals/arranger. Chase Morrin, arranger.

This album, “Marco Pignataro’s Dream Alliance Awakening” is a virtual live concert at Boston’s GBH Fraser Studio, located at Berklee College of Music, where Marco Pignataro has served as Managing Director since 2009.  The recording happened in July of 2021 and was sponsored by JazzBoston.  Saxophonist, Marco Pignataro, used this concert to showcase a stream of artistic expression and talented musicians.  They open with Stevie Wonder’s hit record, “Send One Your Love” sung and played by guitarist and vocal queen, Nadia Washington.  Soon, the group joins in and I am captivated by not only the beauty of this song but the lovely way Ms. Washington sings and plays it.  Marco Pignataro’s bird-like soprano saxophone compliments both the vocals and the composition as he flies freely over the perimeter of the song.  Kenny Werner enters on piano for his solo and become another bright and brilliant bird singing his own solo song.   This is followed by Devon gates on bass, accompanied by finger snaps.  They give voice to Nadia Washington who speaks a love poem called, “Resilience of Light.” When Ms. Washington enters with her soul-singing voice to sing “Stand by Me” she is joined by a gospel piano played by Werner, with handclaps.  In the ‘hook’ of the song, she is joined by several other vocals and Marco’s saxophone bleeds into the fray, a horn voice that fits perfectly.  Pignataro opens Track 4, “Naked Absence” with only his saxophone.  That introduces us, after his solo performance, to Washington’s spoken word again.  Then they burst into a song called “Farallina” that celebrates a butterfly.  This project is a study in creativity and freedom.  The legendary Kenny Werner contributes his Grammy-winning composition, “Inspiration.” These artists let their art wave, like magic wands, across the Boston stage to create magical musical moments.  They perpetuate the title of this column.  Their music is both uninhibited and unexpected.  They comprehensively blend pop, R&B, Jazz and poetry into a cohesive package of entertainment.  Performed by a multi-racial group of talented musicians, who span in age from early twenties to nearly seventy, here is warm, melodic music that enriches the soul and poetry that broadly opens the mind. 

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DAVE BRUBECK TRIO – “LIVE FROM VIENNA 1967” – Brubeck Editions

Dave Brubeck, Piano; Eugene Wright, bass; Joe Morello, drums.

I got so excited when this album came across my desk.  When I saw the photo of Eugene Wright on the cover with Joe Morello and Dave Brubeck it brought a bright smile to my face.  I remember singing with “The Senator” (as we fondly referred to Eugene Wright) with Karen Hernandez on piano at a small club called The Money Tree in Southern California.  That was many years ago when I was a working jazz vocalist.  What an extraordinary bassist he was and a joy to perform with!  The Senator was complimented in the press package, noting that until December 30, 2020, he was the last surviving member of the Dave Brubeck quartet and was always appreciated as the foundation upon which the other members of the quartet relied.

This historic album was recorded ‘live’ in Vienna back in 1967 and is the only available album that features Dave Brubeck in a trio setting.  What an extraordinary rhythm section!  It seems that Paul Desmond got distracted the night before, when he hung out with a friend in Hamburg, Germany and missed their morning flight to Vienna.  As a trio performance, these iconic musicians each was given plenty of space to solo and show off their amazing talents individually. 

“I think, if our dad were alive to hear this Brubeck Trio recording now, he’d be flashing his famous, big smile.  He would be extremely proud to hear how, more than half a century ago, he, Gene and Joe got thrown a curve ball and knocked it out of the park!” Chris Brubeck said of this historic musical treasure.

They open with a rousing rendition of “St. Louis Blues” and the party is on!  This is followed by the Brubeck composition, “One Moment Worth Years.”   His awesome piano technique and style is beautiful to hear.  During this arrangement, he reminds me a lot of Erroll Garner and a wee bit like the jazz pianist Nat King Cole before he ever sang a note.  That being said, Dave Brubeck was his own man and displayed his own, unique talent.  The conversation he and Eugene Wright display is absolutely entertaining.  We hear that big, thick bass sound marching beneath the Brubeck swing and the way Dave tinkles those treble notes is like a voice speaking to the bass.  Joe Morello’s drums pump the swing and become the glue that holds the groove tightly in place.  You will love Dave’s fast-paced arrangement of “Swanee River” with his two hands playing in concert, the left brightly establishing the rhythm and the right hand trembling the treble.   When Dave Brubeck breaks off into his solo, it’s his captivating style that commands attention and respect.  Some of these new jazz pianists need to sit down and study how Brubeck pumps energy into every phrase he plays.  Joe Morello is spectacular during several bars of trading fours on his trap drums.  At this time, you will hear ‘the Senator’s’ bass play double-time notes beneath the drum solos and the creative sparks of energy fly when Brubeck plays piano.  His comping is always unique and never repeated.   A lot of the younger players play the same comp phrase over and over when letting the drums solo.  They should listen to Brubeck.  Every line is different.  When he breaks “Swanee River” down to a smoky blues, playing with the tempos, the audience response is a healthy ovation.  Dave Brubeck’s creativity is inspiring.  

It is absolutely awesome to hear Dave Brubeck and his trio perform in their tight, cohesive way.  Without the horn, Dave Brubeck explores and embellishes each piece they play with rich improvisation and elongated technical brilliance.  This is an unearthed treasure.  It belongs in every jazz collector’s portfolio.  You will enjoy playing this album over and over again.  I know I did!

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JOEY ALEXANDER – “ORIGIN” – Mack Ave Records

Joey Alexander, piano/Fender Rhodes/composer; Larry Grenadier, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums; Gilad Hekselman, guitar; Chris Potter, saxophone.

“Remembering” is the first original on this Joey Alexander album featuring ten songs that he has written and arranged for this project.  It’s the first time Joey has recorded, featuring all original music and also the first recording where he includes an electric piano.  He returns, with this sixth album, as a leader and using the rhythm section from his previous album.  The trio opens their first track with Larry Grenadier on bass and Kendrick Scott at the trap drums.  When reedman Chris Potter joins the party on a tune called, “On the Horizon,” his soprano saxophone paints hopeful pictures in my mind of a sunrise, bursting with orange, yellow and pink colors.  I find Alexander’s piano solo entering, rather pensively, using the treble piano register to improvise briefly.  Larry Grenadier opens “Dear Autumn” on bass, establishing a moderate tempo.  Soon Alexander is flying above the track, encouraged by Scott’s drums, but still thoughtful and laid-back.  Gilad Hekselman brings energy on guitar during their arrangement of “Winter Blues” as does Chris Potter on his saxophone.  Joey Alexander uses his piano chops on the Electric keyboard during this song. 

“To be clear, I didn’t actually write Winter Blues during the winter.  It was actually in the summertime, in New York City, but I was remembering how gloomy it was in the winter during the pandemic and I thought, how can I make the situation upbeat and hopeful,” Joey confessed.

As he peels through the seasons, (there is a song titled “Summer Rising” and another called “Promise of Spring”) followed by Mother Nature moods like “Midnight Waves.”  

On “Rise Up” Hekselman’s guitar introduction tickles the mood.  For a moment, I thought there was going to be some up-beat, transformative energy on this tune to match its title.  I was mistaken.  The music on this project does not “Rise Up.”  Instead, it’s quite peaceful and also beautiful, but lacking energetic spontaneity and enthusiasm.   It’s music to meditate by or the kind of music you hear while you enjoy a massage.  If you are just looking for tranquility and relaxation, this CD is perfect.  I know Joey Alexander can create on-stage energy because I’ve witnessed it.  Check him out on the video below.  I wish he had included a couple of tunes like this one on his recent release, to show his diversity and the soulful way he can play.

“Origin” is Alexander’s first album for Mack Avenue Records and it     will be released May 20 digitally and on CD, with a vinyl release scheduled for June 24.

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GORDON GRDINA – THE MUSIC OF TIM BERNE – “ODDLY ENOUGH” – ABG Records                                     Gordon Grdina, solo electric & midi guitars/classical guitar/acoustic guitar/oud/dobro. Tim Berne, composer.       

GORDON GRDINA’S HARAM with MARC RIBOT – “NIGHT’S QUIETEST HOUR” Attaboygirl (ABG) Records

Gordon Grdina, oud; Marc Ribot, guitar; Emad Armoush, vocals/ney; Tim Gerwing, darbuka; Liam MacDonald, rig; Tommy Babin, bass; Kenton Loewen, drums; Francois Houle, clarinet; Christopher Kelly, saxophone; JP Carter, trumpet, Josh Zubot, violin; Jesse Zubot, violin.

Vancouver, Canada-based guitarist and Oud player, Gordon Grdina, is back with an album in collaboration with guitar experimenter, Mark Ribot.  Grdina’s group is called “Haram” (I believe Haram in Arabic means ‘house’), and they have joined forces to present a blend of traditional Iraqi and Arabic folk music with jazz.  This album with Marc Ribot explores improvisation and the creative evolvement of his native music with more modern and experimental music.  However, it is anything but “Night’s Quietest Hour.”  This music is boisterous and energetic; stuffed with chants and Arabian traditional roots.  Marc Ribot is a legendary guitar wizard who waves his magic fingers over the guitar strings to create a rather rock and roll evolvement in Grdina’s music.

“Ribot’s been a hero of mine for a long time.  He added a whole lot of energy and excitement as well as a punk rock aesthetic to these pieces,” Gordon Grdina explains.

Grdina founded his Haram group in 2008 and for his project, “Night’s Quietest Hour,” He also includes authentic Middle Eastern instrumentation inclusive of Emad Armoush playing the ‘ney.’  The ney, (or nay) is a reed instrument made originally from hollow cane with five or six finger holes. Then, there is Liam MacDonald playing the ‘rig.’  I’m assuming this is the guitar rig 6 player that offers a range of modules, components, effects and routing tools.  Finally, Tim Gerwing adds the darbuka drum to the mix.  This is a goblet-shaped percussion instrument popular in the Middle East and North Africa.

On his other release, Grdina performs solo playing Tim Berne’s compositions.  This production was captured in the studio just before the COVID pandemic choked the world in a strangle-hold.  Grdina found himself sitting before a computer and communicating with fellow musician, Tim Berne (saxophonist and composer).  Grdina was sending his musical ideas over the Internet and Berne responding in-kind. This went on for nearly a year, before Grdina had enough material for their album, “Oddly Enough.”  Grdina’s solo album was sent to me simultaneously with his second recording.  Grdina was inspired to design a new guitar that was able to simultaneously record Midi data, both electric and acoustic on his project with Tim Berne.

“The pieces were incredibly challenging, yet beautiful and aligned with what I had been exploring in my own writing. …  Tim’s music is personal and immediately recognizable, yet can be continuously phrased and interpreted differently. Tim has created his own world with its own sense of logic; for me, that is the most inspiring thing an artist can do,” Grdina affirmed in his press package.

Gordon Grdina is a JUNO Award-winning oud/guitarist whose career has spanned continents and decades.  This is avant-garde jazz, modern improvisation, Middle-Eastern-based music that blends with contemporary indie-rock, refreshing like black tea and honey.

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ROBERTO OCCHIPINTI – “THE NEXT STEP” – Modica Music

Roberto Occhipinti, bass; Adrean Farrugia, piano; Larnell Lewis, drums; Llaria Crociante, vocals.

A very classical double-bass tone drifts into my listening room, bowed by the astute hands of Roberto Occhipinti, an established presence on both the Canadian and International jazz scenes.  He captures my ear immediately with the beauty of his singular instrument.  When the music-box voicings of Adrean Farrugia’s piano enter, the melodic piece is already locked into my mind.  It’s a peaceful and lovely composition that is also the album title; “The Next Step.”  Mr. Occhipinti has been working with Canada’s top-tier orchestras and a group of cutting-edge contemporary musicians.  he also plays his bass on Latin American performances and works with musicians from Africa to Asia; from John Cage and Terry Riley to the studios of Stevie Wonder.  Roberto has also recorded with a number of Cuban artists like Hilario Duran and Jane Bunnet in particular.  What he hadn’t really done yet was become the bandleader of a jazz trio.  This is Occhipinti’s debut trio recording as a leader.

“It’s always been a favorite form of mine, from the time I started playing bass, after hearing Ray Brown in the Oscar Peterson Trio; then moving on to the classic Bill Evans trio with Scott LaFaro and finally in my work with the Hilario Duran Trio,” Roberto Occhipinti tells us in his press package.

Roberto has composed six of the songs on this project.  Track #2 is called, “Emancipation Day” and Occhipinti takes time to explore a long and creative bass solo during this arrangement.  “The Peacocks” is a standard jazz tune composed by Jimmy Rowles.  Roberto Occhipinti pulls out his bow again and rubs it sensually across the upright bass strings.  He pulls the melody out of the instrument, thick and sweet as taffy.  His solo delivery is stunningly beautiful.  On Roberto’s composition, “II Muro” Larnell Lewis takes an opportunity to show-off his drumming talents.  On the Alessandro Scarlatti composition, “O Cessate Di Piagarmi” he invites the warm vocals of Ilaria Crociante to briefly join the trio.  I found the “Steveland” song to be very beautiful and I wondered if it was a tribute to Stevie Wonder, whose given name Is Steveland.  The chord changes remind me of something Stevie would write.  All in all, this is a well-produced, beautifully played album of quality compositions and excellent musicianship.

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OZ NOY, UGONNA OKEGWO & RAY MARCHICA – “RIVERSIDE” – Outside In Music

Oz Noy, guitar; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Ray Marchica, drums.

This trio is made up of New York-based musicians and this is their first release on the Outside In Music label.  Until this union, each one was working consistently in various other situations.  The bassist, Ugonna Okegwo has been a celebrated sideman with both the Jacky Terrasson and Tom Harrell bands.  Ray Marchica is an exceptional drummer who stays busy playing studio sessions and working on Broadway.  He also has two albums to his credit as a bandleader.  The guitarist, Oz Noy, is one of fusion’s most sought after and unique guitar voices.  When the pandemic hit and the world shut down, these three frustrated musicians decided to meet-up in New York’s Riverside Park and play music on little bandstand-like coves; the ones that nature offered.

When they first started playing, there was nobody in the park, but by October, their crowd-gathering, outdoor concerts had become noticeable and popular.  They held their impromptu sessions throughout the summer months, until winter weather made them quit.

Ray Marchica said, “It saved me.  It saved all of us – musically and mentally.”

The result of those park concerts was that their trio was born.  They played standard tunes and three personalities became like one.  Arrangements were born and their creativity merged into a plan.  By the time winter arrived, they were prepared to go into the studio and cut this entertaining production.

On “Anthropology” Ray Marchica takes a stunning drum solo.  They swing on “Have You Met Miss Jones” with Oz Noy setting the tempo on his guitar and leading the band down a path of improvisational twists and turns.  He may have been a popular fusion player, but on this project, Oz Noy shines in the straight-ahead spotlight.  Ugonna Okegwo takes a solid, steady and melodic bass solo during this familiar song and that solo is quite imaginative. They offer us ten familiar jazz standard tunes.   All are well-played and allow each musician to dangle their creativity before us like a hypnotist’s pendant.  I enjoy the way Oz Noy plays his guitar in the upper register, tickling the tenor strings and creating delightful, harmonic sounds pleasant to the ear.  On Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce” the trio turns it into a provocative, slow blues arrangement.  They also play “Donna Lee” and “Out of Nowhere” by Charlie Parker, making those tunes their own.  Noy offers his own composition titled “Riverside Blues” that shuffles in a happy-go-lucky way and is very well-played by this trio.  Drummer, Marchica, has composed the “6/8 Lunch Break” and he opens the tune with an Afro-waltz beat flamboyantly leading the way.  His drums sing melodically, coming alive beneath his sticks as he offers us the best of himself.  Ray Marchica shows us that he needs no accompaniment.  He performs like a one-man band.  Afterwards, they reinvent “The Start of Something Big” and end this production with a rip-roaring rendition of “Sunny” at a lightening-strike speed.  Noy’s guitar magic is notable on this tune and quite impressive.  I hope these three talented musicians bring the world lots more of their incredible trio music.

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OTOK – “CABRIOLES CEREBRALES OF ACCIDENTS PSYCHOTIQUES” –                                    LFDS Records/France

Hamza Touré, saxophone; Thomas Zielinski, guitar; Yoram Rosilio, double bass; Julien Catherine, drums.

OTOK is a French-based Avant-garde jazz quartet.  Each member is a composer, with double bassist, Yoram Rosilio, being the most prolific composer on this recording.  He has penned seven out of the ten tunes and he also designed and provided the artwork for their album cover.  ‘OTOK’ opens with “Kromagnon,” nearly six minutes of explosive energy, often reminding me of New York City rush-hour traffic.  “Kabessita” is another Rosilio composition. It features counterpoint musical phrases between saxophone and guitar at the top of the tune.  Thomas Zielinski’s guitar takes precedence, developing the melody atop a repeated discourse in the background.  Julien Catherine’s trap drums roll, chop and pound underneath Hamza Touré’s busy saxophone that summersaults across space.  On the “Interlude,” Yoram Rosilio solo-walks his bass briskly, but briefly.  Track #4 sounds like a blues and it’s entitled “Elena’s Circle” featuring the warm sound of Touré’s saxophone in conversation with Rosilio’s contrabass.  It starts out like a warm, intoxicating ballad and soon veers off into outer-space with uncontained improvisation and driving drums.  The saxophone takes on jungle and animalistic sounds and the guitar plays rhythm and also improvises wildly.  “Elena’s Circle” turns into a full-fledged tornado of sounds, before settling back down to the blues that invited and intoxicated me at first.  Each “Interlude” features one of the four players showing off their musical skills.  Track #10, titled “Otok,” sounds like a happy carnival and a time of cotton candy sweetness and joy.  As a whole, the OTOK album is a lesson in extremes; a walk on the wild side.

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ECHOES – “LASTING” – Unit Records

Matt DiBiase, vibraphone/malletkat/synthesizers/keyboard/composer; Max Bessesen, saxophones/flute/keyboard/composer; Evan Levine, upright bass/electric bass/guitar/composer; Chase Kuesel, acoustic & electric drums/composer.

Every now and then an album comes across my desk that sounds exactly like the soundtrack to a movie.  This is one such album.  There are no outstanding solo instruments that come out-front to shine in the spotlight on every track.  Instead, various players solo spontaneously and present themselves as a solid unit.  Echoes’ music is cohesive, tight, well-played and appealing.  It’s a mixture of futuristic electronic sounds, loops, synthesizers and traditional jazz.  This album arrived with no press information to enlighten or sway me.  I know the names of the players, listed on the inner cover, and the instruments they play.  That’s it!  They give special thanks to Avaloch Farm Music Institute for making their album possible.  All the musicians play multiple instruments and create interesting songs.  I don’t know who the composers are until I go On-line.  They don’t list the composers or the publisher credits on the CD.  That’s unusual.  On-line I’m sent a bio from their publicist that tells me Chase Kuesel is a composer and drummer based in Brooklyn, New York.  The group’s reedman, Max Bessesen, has composed the opening tune called “Jam Fest” and also plays keyboard.  Matt DiBiase is a California-based multimedia artist who has penned “Off Switch” and a song called “Flipbook” that he describes as: “syncopated and playful with a melody meant to paint the story of an animated cartoon character.”  Evan Levine contributes an original song “Asbury” named after his hometown of Asbury Park in New Jersey. 

“This tune (Asbury) takes a lot of the group’s rock influences and uses layers to create a powerful groove with a sweet, relaxed melody skating over the top of it.  Think about drinking a beer on the beach.  It’s hot outside, but the water is cold,” explains Evan Levine, painting a picture to describe his composition.

I agree that the group’s music paints scenes and tickles the imagination.  This is a project that I believe should seek licensing for film, for video games or perhaps television show sound-bites.  

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DEANNA WITKOWSKI – “FORCE OF NATURE” – MCG Jazz

Deanna Witkowski, piano; Daniel Foose & Dwayne Dolphin, bass; Roger Humphries & Scott Latzky, drums; Clay Jenkins, trumpet.

Deanna Witkowski is a dynamic pianist, composer, educator and arranger, who is a great admirer of the famed jazz pianist, Mary Lou Williams. “Force of Nature” caps off twenty-years of immersive research into the life and work of Mary Lou Williams, the woman known as ‘The First Lady of Jazz.’  To fans and students of Ms. Williams’ legacy, she stands tall as one of the best-known but unfortunately, undervalued women in jazz history.  Born in 1910, she lived a musical life until 1981 and left behind marvelous pioneering compositions and arrangements.  Once hired by Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams was an influential player and educator, proficient and exploratory during the bebop era.  She was one of the first jazz artists to infuse her music with her Catholic faith.  Most notable are her compositions under the banner of “Jazz Masses.”

Ms. Witkowski has intricately woven into Track #4, titled “Cancer” (taken from Mary Lou’s Zodiac Suite), a piece of the Mary Lou Mass titled, “Act of Contrition.”   It’s quite beautiful and Deanna Witkowski performs this medley with emotional creativity and technical dexterity.  This lovely ballad is a far cry from the inspirational opening number that is full of boisterous blues.  “Gjon Mill Jam Session” is one of many Mary Lou Williams tunes that Deanna Witkowski celebrates during this production.  “Lonely Moments” blasts on the scene with the Clay Jenkins playing a tenacious trumpet out-front and inspired. Witkowski infuses the piece with consistent moments of power and straight-ahead swing.  They add staccato breaks in the arrangement to feature Scott Latzky on drums, never losing the swing or excitement of this piece.  “What’s Your Story, Morning Glory?” is a Mary Lou Williams blues composition that was stolen and became a big hit record called “Black Coffee.”  The music business can be cold-blooded!  Deanna Witkowski puts her heart and soul into interpreting this standard jazz song.  Daniel Foose offers us a delightful bass solo.  But it is always the piano playing of Deanna Witkowski that shines throughout this album of excellence.  Even on ballads, her strength and powerful delivery are captivating; never boring.  She is, like the album’s title, a pure “Force of Nature” and this album documents the spiritual connection she shares with the music of Mary Lou Williams.  The title tune was composed by Witkowski especially for Mary Lou.

“I composed “Force of Nature” while I was renting a house (without a piano) on Euclid Street in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood; the same street that Mary lived on for part of her childhood.  Walking a few blocks to East Liberty Presbyterian Church, in order to practice on an acoustic instrument, I wrote this piece over two sessions,” Deanna Witkowski explained how this title tune came about.

This is an exciting tribute to the great, female, composer and pianist, Mary Lou Williams, but it also is a testament to the talent and power of the artist herself, Deanna Witkowski.  She brings alive the music of Ms. Williams but also shines like a diamond in her own brilliance.

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LUIS MARIO OCHOA – “FOREVER LECUONA” –

Luis Mario Ochoa, vocals/guitar/bandleader/arranger; Hilario Duran, piano/arranger; Luis Orbegoso, percussion/chorus; Louis Simao & Roberto Riveron, bass/chorus; Jonathan Amador, bass; Rosendo ‘Chendy’ Leon, drums/timbales/castanets; Amhed Mitchel, drums/chorus; Jorge Luis Torres ‘Papiosco’, congas; Reimundo Sosa, bata drums.

Luis Mario Ochoa is a strong and emotional vocalist, a guitar master who received a Bachelor of Arts in classical guitar at the University of Havana, Instituto Superior de Artes.  He is also a composer, arranger and bandleader.  Luis emigrated from Cuba to Toronto, Canada in 1990.  There, his musical career blossomed.  His first album was released in 1995 and it was the premiere Canadian-based Latin album to be produced by a Cuban-born artist in that country.  This was the beginning of several releases by Luis Mario Ochoa.  Three more albums followed: La Fiesta, Cimarron and Momentos Cubanos.  Tracks from these albums were so powerful, they were used in Canadian television productions on major networks.  His music is also featured in a mini-series called, “Traders” on CBC; The Associates (CTV) and in films like “Brave New Girl” and “Bailey’s Billions.”  This recent album is a tribute to a famous composer, Ernesto Lecuona, celebrated as the “Gershwin of Cuba.”  His music is said to be a blend of Cuban, African and Spanish influences.  When Luis Mario Ochoa relocated to Miami, Florida in 2014, he began a new chapter in his life and career.  This album is a reflection of that move.  Ochoa’s music embraces historic cultural roots.  You will hear boleros, criollas, Afro-Cuban beats and a Sevillana flavored song.  Much of composer, Ernesto Lecuona’s music was introduced to American audiences by Desi Arnez, the Cuban bandleader and husband of American actress Lucille Ball.

Luis opens with “La Mulata Chancletera” his tenor voice soaring above bright rhythms and singing Spanish lyrics about a light-skinned girl (a mulatto) who is beautiful and has a joyful personality.  In Webster’s dictionary, a mulatto is a child who has one white parent and one black parent.  This tune is a theme song from the Zarzuela Operetta, “Maria La O.”  Luis continues this theme with Track #3, titled for this operetta and describing a woman with a broken heart.  It’s vocally quite dramatic and shows off Ochoa’s rich voice range.  One of my favorite songs is “Siempre En Mi Corazon” which translates to Always in My Heart.  I enjoy the instrumental portions of this album where we can hear Ochoa’s great talents on guitar.  This Lecuona composition was part of the soundtrack of a classic Hollywood film of the same title and was nominated for an Oscar in 1942.  It’s absolutely beautiful.  “Para Vigo Me Voy” is talking about the town of Vigo in Spain.  It’s an up-tempo tune, meant to inspire a conga line.  The arrangement invites the listeners to get up and dance.   There is a bright solo by the pianist followed by Jonathan Amador‘s brief electric bass solo in concert with drummer, Rosendo ‘Chendy’ Leon (who also plays timbales) and Jorge Luis Torres ‘Papiosco’ on congas.  Another favorite is “Y La Negra Bailaba” an instrumental that showcases the tight ensemble Luis Mario Ochoa has put together for this recording.   All the composition of Lecuona are pleasant to the ear with memorable with intoxicating melodies.  “Danza Lucumi” is performed solo by Luis Mario Ochoa on his guitar and represents a tune based on the ethnic Yoruba ancestry that blended their roots with Catholicism.  It reflects a time when African slaves were prohibited from practicing their cultural religion.  It’s extremely pleasurable to hear guitar master, Ochoa, interpret this piece solo.  The final tune on this album of ten songs is titled, “Damisela Encantadora” (the Enchanted Young Lady) and once again features Luis offering us his tenor vocals.  This time he is joined by a chorus of voices that chant the song title and he’s given ample opportunity to once again express himself on guitar.  When this musical expression is complete, I feel as though I have learned much about Cuban music, the historic Mr. Ernesto Lecuona and the multi-talented artist, Luis Mario Ochoa. * * * * * * * *

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