Jazz With An Accent: CDs by The Dino Saluzzi Group, Carlos Franzetti and Ruben Blades

July 8, 2014

By Fernando Gonzalez

The Dino Saluzzi Group

El Valle de la Infancia (ECM)

The bandoneón, a button squeezebox, might have been born in Germany as a poor man’s harmonium for religious services, but found its calling, and reached global recognition, in tango, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, half a world away. But bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi was born in a dusty small town in Salta, in Argentina’s Northwest, not the big city; and he first heard the bandoneón in folk music not tango. Naturally, and especially early in his career, in the late 60s’early 70s, Saluzzi brought the instrument to his folk music projects. And even as he later earned his tango credentials playing in classic tango orchestras in Buenos Aires, his approach to the bandoneón has always had a distinct, personal accent.

In his own music, Saluzzi has long since developed a style in which he has blurred the lines between European classical music and jazz — with a tango and folk tinge.

Dino Saluzzi CD InfancyOn El Valle de la Infancia (The Valley of My Childhood), Saluzzi, 79, comes full circle, taking stock on his musical history through the filter of the styles that have since marked him.

As it probably couldn’t have been otherwise, El Valle de la Infancia is a family affair. His sextet includes his brother Félix on sax, his son José María on guitar and his nephew Matías on bass. (Nicolás “Colacho” Brizuela, guitar; and Quintino Cinalli, drums and percussion complete the group.)

Both as a composer and improviser, Saluzzi has a particular way of setting and telling his stories. He establishes the mood with a few bold strokes, and then, more often than not, lets the themes emerge, digressing unhurriedly, adding a point here, a change-of-pace detail there as the tale unfolds.

“La Polvareda” wanders off from a near religious mood into a festive folk tune and out again. “A Mi Padre y a Mi Hijo” turns unexpectedly into a modern tango that suggests a salute to Astor Piazzolla before dissolving and reappearing as an old-style milonga. The music is not necessarily thru-composed but, for the most part eschews the standard forms. In fact, except for four of the 16 tracks, Saluzzi sets the program as a collection of suites. The connecting thread might not always sound obvious at first listening. In “Pueblo” the three pieces are each from a different composer — and he is none of them. And Saluzzi not only invokes certain traditional folk rhythms (such as in “Charqui” which draws from the folk music of Argentina’s Northwest) but also includes songs by master folk composers such as Atahualpa Yupanqui and Ariel Ramirez.

El Valle de la Infancia suggests the work of a master in winter, still looking ahead as he glances back.

Carlos Franzetti

In The Key of Tango (Sunnyside)

Argentine-born pianist, composer and arranger Carlos Franzetti’s career defies easy labels. He has recorded jazz, tango and pop, has written chamber and symphonic music, operas and film scores, collaborated with jazz musicians, pop artists and rockers. Two recent projects, In The Key of Tango and Panamanian singer and songwriter Rubén Blades´Tangos, brings him back to his musical roots and the results are impressive.

Carlos Franzettk Key of TangoOn In The Key of Tango, a solo piano outing, Franzetti revisits a repertory of classics, including Carlos Gardel’s “Soledad,” Virgilio Expósito’s “Naranjo en Flor” and Astor Piazzolla’s “Adiós Nonino,” as well as his own “Tango Fatal,” the title piece form his 2000 ballet.

It might sound like a simple, even natural task. But being bilingual means, inevitably, to lose some of the turns, nuances and accents of the original language. That, remarkably, is not the case here.

Old school jazz players talk about the need to know the lyrics to properly play and improvise over a song. On In The Key of Tango one can almost hear Franzetti singing along, coming to the precise pause, adding a baroque touch of flair, playing on the drama of certain phrase, speeding up and slowing down like a good club dancer. And he brings to his interpretations not only his substantial technique as a player but an arranger´s ear — now staying simple and direct, now being melodramatic, now suggesting orchestral accents (Orquesta típica accents) as needed.

In The Key of Tango is not only a terrific addition to Franzetti´s discography but it makes for a smart entry point to the classic tango repertoire.

Ruben Blades

Tangos (Sunnyside)

Ruben Bades TangosRecorded in Buenos Aires and New Jersey and featuring the great bandoneón master Leopoldo Federico and his orchestra, a United States-based sextet and The City of Prague Symphony Orchestra, Rubén Blades´ Tangos is a very different tango project.

Here the repertoire is comprised  by Blades´s salsa classics such as “Paula C,” “Pablo Pueblo,” and “Pedro Najava,” and the challenge, for both, singer and arranger, was to re-create them as tangos.

Set with a jeweler’s touch by Franzetti’s arranging, Blades’ singing, for the most part, works. No, he doesn’t have a tango voice nor the phrasing. But, bringing to bear his experience as an actor, Blades sings with flair, trusts the words (and why not? He is one of the prime storytellers in Afro-Caribbean music) and doles out the drama judiciously.

For the most part, Franzetti sets the songs in a neo traditional tango orchestra style and it works — and his re-imagining “Pedro Navaja” and “Adán García” as sui-generi milongas works particularly well.
Probably not for tango purists, but a contribution to the genre nonetheless.

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To read more posts from Fernando Gonzalez and “Jazz With An Accent” click HERE.

 


CD Review of the Day: Teka’s “So Many Stars”

April 16, 2014

Teka

So Many Stars (Blue in Green Productions)

By Brian Arsenault

I think my biggest miss of 2013 may have been not hearing Teka’s marvelous bossa nova infused album So Many Stars. If you missed it too, here’s another chance. Especially for those of us in northern climes in this cold, cold endless winter.

Teka

Teka

Bossa nova almost always warms with its calls to romance and dance. In a harsh world it shows that the finer tender emotions are still possible. So there really is some place other than LA it’s warm this March. Really. And it may be the heart.

Good example, Teka and her teen daughter Luana Psaros provide two slightly different shades of sunlight on water in Aguas de Marco (Waters of March). Luana sounds like a younger skylark, not a lesser one, on this achingly alluring duet.

The album’s title song is also its message. So many stars, so many dreams. Taken as a whole, the album is rather dreamlike and it is a sweet dream.

For one reason, a different band member is featured in combination with Teka’s voice on nearly every song:
Randy Tico’s bass on “So Many Stars,” Doug Webb’s sax on “You Stepped Out of Dream” and “April Child”, Ruben Martinez bass flute on “April Child,” Ian Bernard’s piano on “Skylark.” More. All first rate.

Teka is a fine guitarist in her own right as amply demonstrated on “Bluesette.”

Teka

Teka

“Skylark” is one of the highlights of the album and one of the few non-bossa nova styled songs. Rather it is a wonderful slow jazz arrangement of the great Johnny Mercer/Hoagy Carmichael tune.

The Gershwin’s “S’Wonderful” closes the album with Teka teaming again with Luana for a light hearted take. Smiles all around. Chuckles at the end.   For most of the time, though, we are in the world of Mendes and Jobim and, as noted, it is a warm world of dancing in the dark and counting stars.

Teka has a summer evening breeze quality to her voice always. She is as smoooooooooooth as bossa nova can be and that is very smooth indeed.

Surprises on the album? Maybe one. Her choice to include Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low,” lyrics by Ogden Nash. The central lyric of the song, though, fits the mold: “Speak low when you speak of love” for fear it might disappear.

There is a longing in bossa nova as well as a sweetness.  Teka sings in both English and Portuguese on the album but it is the Portuguese that best brings us the poetry of the music. Even if you don’t speak the language.

The pacing is where American audiences have their biggest problem. Bossa nova after a burst of popularity in the States in the 60s has been largely relegated to secondary status except among aficionados and Brazilian and other Latin communities.

Part of its charm is a pace that is never fast, never hurried and Norteamericanos sometimes need things hot and fast, not warm and romantic.

Still, we are open to “so many dreams,” aren’t we?

Teka and her New Bossa Trio perform at The Gardenia in Hollywood on Wednesday Ap[ril 30.  The Gardenia is at 7066 Santa Monica Blvd.  The phone number is (323) 467-7444.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Christmas CDs: Tim Warfield, New York Voices, Jonathan Butler, Karrin Allyson

December 4, 2013

Of Spirits Bright

 By Brian Arsenault

The feast of Holiday music this year is as abundant as Tiny Tim’s Christmas table. After Scrooge woke up and saw the light, of course. Here are four shining stars to guide us home to Christmas.

Tim Warfield

Tim Warfield’s Jazzy Christmas (Undaunted Music)

Tim and a whole bunch of great musicians’ (most to be named as we go along) undaunted music

To begin with, this is a terrific jazz album as well as Christmas music to delight the heart. You could play it with relish in June — it was actually recorded during summer months — but you might find yourself suddenly wanting to trim a tree.

From the start, on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” you first dig the playing: Warfield’s sax alternating with Terrell Stafford’s trumpet. Stefon Harris comes in on vibraphone, Neil Podgurski’s piano rounds things. This is a fine band playing fine jazz with Christmas “feeling.”

Warfield says “You have to believe in feeling, because that is the top of the hill in all of the arts.” Yeah. And on “Oh Christmas Tree” Podgurski’s piano intro wraps around you like a warm fire in the living room, Christmas tree in the corner. A fine vocal by Jamie Davis. Warfield’s tenor sax.

Caroling Caroling” is just joyous, all the instruments contributing. And drummer Clarence Penn sets a rollicking pace on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Tim has reminded us that “Relating to the African diaspora,… Music begins with the drum…”

So naturally there’s a fine rendition of “Little Drummer Boy.” And “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” well, it’s not restful, it’s exuberant. Heck, the whole album is.

 New York Voices

 Let It Snow (12th Street Records)

If you have warm Christmas memories of childhood, this album may transport you there.

Bach’s Sleeper’s Wake (Ah, Bach) is the universal mother figure arousing a young sleepyhead on the big morning. It might also be a summons for sinners but that’s for another time.

Silent Night” is God’s a capella chorus.

We wish you a Merry Christmas” is all your friends who like that sort of thing gathered around a piano, caroling. Of course, your friends may not sing or play the piano as well, but in fond memories or with lots of good cheer they can.

The four New York Voices are those of Kim Nazarian, Darmon Meader, Lauren Kinhan and Peter Eldridge. Individually pleasing, over a quarter century they have come to blend them in a manner that seems to be of one mind. And soul.

On Christmas music, the effect is magical whether a capella or big band, whether jolly jumping or quietly meditative.

The “Silent Night” done here is angels on high. Four voices fill the room in a nearly orchestral manner. Send your troubles miles away.

Jonathan Butler

Merry Christmas to You (Artistry Music)

Soul seems especially appropriate for Christmas, which at its core is about soul in the big sense.

Jonathan Butler is about soul in the musical sense and comes right out of the gate with Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” somehow with more of a Stevie Wonder quality than Hathaway. Good enough either way.

Damn, or rather, Bless, this guy can sing. He also can compose and his “Merry Christmas to You” — a Christmas love song and there should be more of those — shows off both talents. He also plays guitar and most of the other instruments on the album.

His rich full voice on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” may draw a tear. Dreams matter too.

Nobody ever sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” like Judy Garland. She was always close to the pain implicit in the song and clung to its hopefulness in her battered but brave life. Yet Butler comes close.

He knew pain too growing up under apartheid in South Africa but he never lost hope either. Maybe you have to have some of the faith most of us have lost or decided is irrelevant in the modern world.

His is still a personal God. Of all the albums here, only his includes “The First Noel,” which is perhaps the most faith-based of the traditional carols. To hear him sing it is to go to the Church you may wish you had.

Oh, and for the big population control advocates among you, consider that Jonathan is the youngest of 17 children. Seems maybe miracles can come at any time.

Karrin Allyson

 Yuletide Hideaway (Kasrecords)

I think I may have heard a new addition to the Christmas songbook.

Karrin Allyson’s album opens with the title song which isn’t really about a physical place. It’s rather about where we hope to go: where reindeers blow a trumpet and there are skaters on a mirror pond. It’s a song that hopes for Christmas for grownups. And I think it will be heard by her and others for many future Christmases.

The second song, “Winter Oasis,” has that same quality. The search for a “place” called Christmas that the child in us embraces. Where we hope to stay for just a little while.

This whole album seems an effort at seeking that world. Ms Allyson has such a rich, expressive voice that we are happy to journey with her.

Arriving at “Winter Wonderland” we find it can be done in a restrained and soft manner when it is often done so brassy. Yet “Let It Snow” has all the bounce normally associated with the song.

Inventive and traditional. Nicely blended.

Her version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” has the gentle touch she brings to so much in the album. The band is especially strong here: Rod Fleeman’s guitar, Todd Strait on drums and sleigh bells, Gerald Spaits on acoustic bass.

There’s also a nice little tribute to Vince Guaraldi on “Christmas Time Is Here,” inseparable from the Holiday for all who have grown up, or are growing up, with Charlie Brown and the gang.

Warm as Nana’s quilt.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


CD Review: TriBeCaStan’s “New Songs From the Old Country”

November 12, 2013

TriBeCaStan

New Songs From the Old Country (Evergreene Music)

By Brian Arsenault

I’m a bit late getting to this gem and it is one. A rare gem that perhaps could only come out of New York — especially the “TriangleBelowCanalSt.” — where there is as much diversity as just about anywhere in the world.

Diversity of instruments — some I am not sure how to pronounce or spell. What’s a charango? Diversity of influences — from the frozen tundra of Mother Russia to the deserts of North Africa. All channeled through an American jazz sensibility with traces of bluegrass, blues and rock.

TriBeCaStan

I know. I’m not being clear enough. But it’s hard since there’s a good chance you’ve never heard anything like it before if you aren’t familiar with the band.

Eastern and Western rhythms intermingle. Stringed instruments from around the world are combined. Is that a flute? No a penny whistle. Maybe both.

It’s music that seems both terribly foreign and yet very comfortable. You might like playing it as a Holiday album, whatever holiday you celebrate at this time of year. People might smile and start to dance a step or two. On the other hand, they may go ‘What the hell is this?’

A caravan moves across a desert before we decided to hate each other to death. Maybe after we stop.

You move from a room where an Irish folk tune is being played to a room full of jazz, then back again to the penny whistle and so on and so forth till you might feel a bit dizzy. Happy though.

Then you’ll be at the Circus’ Christmas party in Tinker Tailor singing something like the old Soviet national anthem.

You can cook to this music. I did. Breakfast. (Pancakes) But a bunch of Russians from an old movie may suddenly dance in your kitchen.

This is music that seeks the world but may not make it out of New York. It’s too unique. I don’t think we do unique any more.

Oh, it’s not flawless. The album drags a bit in the middle as if it’s running out of ideas and energy, starting to repeat, but then there’s a new surge of energy.

Adrian’s Leap” leaps to a bit of rock.

The Blue Sky of Your Eyes” brings bluegrass into play and shows that Delta harmonica has the same musical roots, a connection not often made.

Kecapi Rain” is maybe the most beautiful piece on the album. Soft rain falls. It’s warm.

Strings and pipes. A flute? I don’t know. I get confused and stop trying to pick out everything.

Let the soft warm rain fall.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


CD Review: Roisin O’s “Secret Life of Blue”

October 30, 2013

Roisin O’Reilly

Secret Life of Blue (3 U Records)

By Brian Arsenault

Secret Life Blue of begins with the Irish instruments on “Here We Go” rising like a summer storm. Then a voice so pure, Roisin O’Reilly’s, which I have compared to Joni Mitchell’s, as I can think of no higher compliment.

Roisin O'Reilly

Roisin O’Reilly

Yet she has very much her own pipes; a voice as yet undamaged by time or self abuse. Like a new flower or a fresh mowed meadow.

Roisin has the background. I first saw her on a short U.S. tour singing a few songs with a family member. And I knew. I just knew. This gem of an album was bound to occur.

And what should I call this music, I ponder. Rock through a Celtic haze perhaps. New Irish folk tunes maybe.

Something else, though, in this music. A next generation. A circle fully drawn.

How Long” has an opening from the West Virginia hills. Emmy Lou could sing it. As if Irish pain has crossed the Atlantic to American folk then bounced back again to its native land.

Tell me no lies” she pleads. “That’s all I want.” Good luck with that.

Roisin’s song writing, often in company with the various band members, has a Neil Young directness and deceptive simplicity with an occasional wild Irish howl that is like a female response to Van Morrison with the Chieftains.

And, ah, the others in the band.:

Ruth O’Mahony Brady on keys mostly. Must be her wonderfully on piano on “Tea Song.“

Brian Murphy on bass and singing deep and soulfully, also on “Tea Song,” with Roisin; his deep notes the perfect counterpoint to her high end work here. They might think about doing more of that.

Alan Joseph Tully, principally on guitar, strumming like David Crosby on “You Owe Me a Drink“ and elsewhere slippin’ and a slidin’ in and around Roisin‘s vocals.

They are linked by soul if not entirely by blood.

The layered Celtic rhythms in all the songs seem to rise from the very earth. They spin and weave like faeries in a folk tale. Integral to the poetry of the songs.

Hope and melancholy blend throughout on this album. Something terribly Irish about that.

From “Filled With Snow” wherein she sees her lover’s “buckle(d) brow” and feels “the dew from your skin on my hand.” Oh there will be “a day that is just ours.” But just a day, not a lifetime.

Again Irish . If it’s good, there’s a good chance it won’t last.

On “Let’s Find Some People,” there’s a Carole King-like life affirming hopefulness interspersed with bed-ridden depression.

Nothing sugar coated here but there is strength and love, or is it the strength of love, emerging and perhaps redeeming throughout.

On “Climb High” Roisin argues “There is a reason for all this dreaming” while wondering if “Writing down words just cause you can” is “how it’s supposed to be.” Neil Gaiman would approve of the “dreaming” portion and countless scriveners with the second part.

The album closes with an admonition to “Find the Light” and an homage to “The Secret Life of Blue.”

Is blue to dominate? Is sadness winning? There’s something terribly Irish about that too. Still, there’ll be a fight if only fought with poetry and music.

Oh, by the way, when I first saw her, Roisin was on tour with the great Irish singer Mary Black, her mom. I didn’t want to make too much of that at the start as it might make you think of her only in those terms. Wouldn’t be right.

Final note: The album seems to be available in CD form only in Ireland and curiously in Sweden, Germany and Austria. Elsewhere on iTunes.

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Photo courtesy of Roisin O’Reilly.

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Brian Arsenault’s Short Takes: CDs by Lunasa and Olivia Foschi

March 17, 2013

Of Music Beyond Ireland and Back to Italy

By Brian Arsenault

LÚNASA

 Lúnasa with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra (Lúnasa Records)

Up the Irish. Up the rebels. I always used to like my cousin’s husband bellowing those calls to rising first thing in the morning.

To get your dose of real Irish instrumental music with St. Patrick’s day upon us, give a listen to Lúnasa (whistles, fiddle, pipes, etc.) with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra (Ireland’s national orchestra).

It’s all there: jaunty jigs, melancholy melodies, mad passion, soft beauty. A wall of sound created by traditional Irish acoustic instruments enhanced by the restrained but not understated playing of the orchestra. Phil Spector might dig it, if he digs anything these days.

There are wonderful moments on several selections when Lúnasa starts on its own for several bars and then the orchestra comes up behind in support. That very moment when the orchestra begins is just dazzling. Perfection.

The surprise of this album (for me at least) is the band taking listeners to Celtic regions beyond Ireland’s shore–Brittany in western France, the former kingdoms of Galicia and Asturias, still autonomous regions in northwest and northern Spain.

The “Breton Set” is one of the delights of the album.  It is akin to Irish music but somehow different, calling across centuries to one another.

But my favorite for spunk and joy is “Morning Nightcap”. That’s not an oxymoron, darlin,’ it’s Irish.

You can get this album on i-Tunes and such in time for St. Patrick’s Day but not till mid-April in CD form. Go figure.

And if you’re anywhere near Powell, Wyoming (is anything near Powell, Wyoming?) today, on the big day itself, you can see Lúnasa at Powell High School Auditorium. Try and figure.

Olivia Foschi

Perennial Dreamer (Olivia Foschi)

Olivia Foschi tells the listener to kick off shoes and pour a glass of wine. She wants the album “to take you to a comfortable, cozy place.” But I didn’t put the CD in the Bose to be comfortable and cozy. I’d like to be thrilled, dazzled, enchanted, maybe grabbed and shaken.

And at times, Olivia, you come close.

On “Bridge” you and the piano mastery of Miki Hayama chase each other and make a perfect match.

On “Legend of the Purple Valley,” you set the mood perfectly during the opening by singing notes only. We are among the violets.

In other places, even though you’re a match for the bevy of current female jazz singers in clarity, pitch and tone, real angel stuff, I think I’m hearing the self imposed limitations of extensive music schooling. Music school is great, I’m not against it, but have you noticed how many times they tell you what you can’t/shouldn’t/mustn’t do?

I just don’t hear a complete singing style of your own yet.  As a songwriter, though, you’re hitting a nice stride.  “Disillusionment,” for example. And “Secrecy and Lies.”

Take more chances.  Have you spent enough time in the clubs?  You were born and raised in the States but had the fortitude to serve an orphanage in Katmandu, gain a European education and study music in Rome.   Surely you don’t just want us to only get all cozy.

Just keep going and don’t get too comfortable.

To read more reviews, posts and columns from Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Jazz CD Review: Emy Tseng’s “Sonho”

January 23, 2013

Emy Tseng

 Sonho (Self Produced)

 By Brian Arsenault

If the reality of burgeoning world music can be encapsulated in a single individual, I submit in nomination Emy Tseng.  Taiwanese born, raised in the American Midwest, Ivy League educated (she appears to have overcome it) singing Brazilian jazz, in Portuguese of course, with a couple of American jazz standards thrown in for good measure. (More about that later.)

Her debut album Sonho, Portuguese for Dream, is just that in places.  Dreamlike. There’s the very first tune, “Aquelas Coisas Todas” (“All Those Things”); Brazilian dreams: beaches, beauties, beverages, bistros, bossa nova.  Brazil has a myth, a legend, a romantic sense of passion and languor that Tseng acquired in Greenwich Village and honed in the Washington D.C. Brazilian music scene.

Emy Tseng

Emy Tseng

Don‘t sneer. The legend, the essence, is often sensed most strongly by those who know first  only the myth. But Emy Tseng is real. A remarkably clear voice. An adept student working hard at her craft. More than that, a gifted artist starting on a long path.

You don’t have to know the language to hear the allure in “Berimbau” with her sultry voice playing off Andy Connell’s soprano sax. (More about this guy later.) And if “Berimbau” flirts, Caetano Veloso’s “Coração Vagabundo” seduces. Again a dream: It’s deep dusk and a few dancers move smoothly on the floor. Andy Connell’s clarinet doesn’t accompany, it sings with her.

You see, I don’t know Portuguese. Like a lot of gringo Americans I have a passing acquaintance with English, some street slang, and little else. So I have to respond to the music and her voice as instrument.

Except in a few places.  “California Dreamin’” is a surprise – yes, the Mamas and Papas song — but it fits because she does it as melancholy and mournful and gives it a greater depth than a cold, broke hippy. Another dream.  Matvei Sigalov, an acoustic guitarist, plays wonderfully here and elsewhere on the album.

There’s her marvelous closing rendition of the classic jazz standard, “Close Your Eyes,” where she is accompanied only by David Jernigan’s wondrous acoustic bass. What’s created are spaces, silences between the notes of the two that would please even those discerning guys at ECM. Did I close my eyes? Yeah, for a moment, to hear those most comforting words  “I’ll be here by your side” in pure tones. Delicious.

On another standard that has become a jazz classic, “I Thought About You,” I thought about Emy doing a big piece of the Great American Songbook on a future album. Johnny Mercer songs, Cole Porter songs, Gershwin maybe.  It wouldn’t be better than her Brazilian jazz but, I think it might be very good indeed.

Still, she needn’t stray far from Brazil.  “Na Beira do Rio” shows how that distinctive Brazilian style of rhythm and melody can heighten emotional content with a singer who feels it. Sigalov again helps entrance us.

But the guy who really knocks me out on the album is the previously mentioned Andy Connell, who puts in two distinctive performances on clarinet and two more on soprano sax.

The clarinet is such a terrific instrument to listen to, but it’s often pushed aside, it seems, by our obsession with brass.  I have it too.  It’s, well, it’s brassy, commanding attention. But the clarinet floats on high and rides the wind when played by a guy this good. Similarly, the soprano sax seems often neglected for its larger siblings but is equally evocative.

Tseng, in the best jazz tradition, lets Connell and the others be showcased strongly, often as equals on songs.

If you’re like me, you tend to like your music “from the street” and to be a little suspicious about too much of an academic music background for rock or jazz. Hell, Tseng’s academic credentials even include a degree in Math. Yet the mistrust of learning and over-reliance on “street cred” can be distinctly anti-intellectual. A formal quality education in music also has the potential to expand creativity, not diminish it.

Emy Tseng will prove that, I think.

To read more posts, columns and reviews by Brian Arsenault click HERE.  


Jazz with an Accent: New CDs from e.s.t., Tania Maria and Eddie Gomez, Alfredo Rodriguez, Diego Schissi, and Christian Escoude

May 23, 2012

By Fernando Gonzalez

The music business might be not much of a business these days, but the quantity, variety and quality of the music being released is quite astonishing. No, not every recording is great or even merely necessary. Few would argue against democratizing the production and delivery process in music – but on the other hand, not everybody who can make a recording should. That said, trying to stay up to date with worthy new releases has become a frustrating proposition. Rather than “Jazz with an Accent” these notes might soon be titled “Running after the Bus.”

Here are some notable new releases.

 e.s.t.

301 (ACT)

Just about as it was gaining recognition as one of the most promising groups in 21st century jazz the Esbjorn Svensson Trio, or e.s.t., came to a brutally abrupt, tragic end when its pianist and leader died in a scuba diving accident in June, 2008.  The sound of the trio, which included drummer Magnus Öström and bassist Dan Berglund, was an intriguing mix. It could play as cooly lyrical jazz one moment, informed by European classical music and Nordic sensibilities, and blow up as drum’n’bass, with bits of noise and electronics and a ferocious rock energy the next.

Culled from the material developed in two days of jamming in a studio in Sydney, Australia, in 2007 in the off days of an Asia and Australia tour, 301 plays as a terrific summation of the group’s power and music. It is actually the second posthumous recording from those sessions. According to the promotional information, Svensson had edited the material from those sessions down to two albums. Only one was released — Leucocyte (ACT 2008). Edited by Öström, Berglund and the band’s regular sound engineer Ake Linton, 301 (the name refers to Sydney’s Studio 301 where it was recorded) shows a mature, confident group working as a unit, listening hard, paying attention to dynamics and generally pushing and chasing each other down unexpected rabbit holes.  It’s tempting, But pointless, to hear 301 and wonder what might have been. What it is, is remarkable.

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Tania Maria with Eddie Gomez

Tempo (Naïve)

France-based Brazilian pianist and vocalist Tania Maria’s first album of new music in nearly six years is a surprising, small pleasure. A capable pianist who also was once nominated for a Grammy as a jazz vocalist (at one point in time her label promoted her as sounding  “sometimes” like a “Brazilian Aretha Franklin”), Tania Maria gained an international following as a fiery, high-energy performer. But in Tempo, a duet recording featuring bassist Eddie Gomez, her approach, while still full of verve, is pared down to essentials — and made better for it.

Tania Maria’s originals are all instrumentals, none particularly memorable but all well constructed. She draws from Brazilian music, blues and jazz and frames the mix with a pop sensibility.  She sings here, very effectively, in both Italian (“Estate,” an Italian pop hit since turned standard by artists as disparate as Joao Gilberto and Shirley Horn), and Portuguese (“Sentado A Beira Do Camino,” “A Chuva Caiu,” and “Bronzes e Cristais”).

Gomez is an invaluable partner throughout, laying down a solid foundation with a percussive edge, smartly letting the music breathe but also forceful and active when needed. And, no news here, Gomez is an effective soloist,  including  a beautifully bowed performance in Tania Maria’s “Senso Unico.”

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 In short …

 Alfredo Rodriguez: Sounds of Space (Mack Avenue)

The debut recording of LA-based Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez plays like a sampler  –  all original pieces in a variety of styles, both traditional and his own, showcasing his technical breadth and depth.  Consider the opening “Qbafrica,” with its baroque Hermeto Pascoal references, leading into the elegant bolero “Sueño de Paseo,” and back up again to the burner “Silence.” Rodriguez is featured here leading two ensembles, one from Cuba, the other one based on the United States.

 Diego Schissi Quinteto: Tongos (Sunnyside)

Argentine pianist and composer calls his music “not tango, but close.” In fact, his post-Piazzolla tango features a similar instrumentation to that of the maestro’s (violin, guitar, bandoneón, bass and piano) and shares references (Bartok and Stravinsky as well as tango tradition) before going its own way. Not much improvisation here, but smart writing, beautifully shaded, and paced playing and a path to the tango for the 21st century – or something close to it.

Christian Escoudé Plays Brassens (Sunnyside)

How much you may enjoy this release by French guitarist Christian Escoudé does not depends on how much you know about the great poet and songwriter George Brassens. Originally mostly voice-and-guitar songs, Escoudé treats them as standards and arranges them for various sextets. If you know these songs, you´ll appreciate the humor and affection in Escoudé´s versions. But even if you don´t, the pleasures in these well-constructed songs and the unhurried swing and modestly displayed virtuosity of Escoudé and his ensemble (which includes guitarist Birelli Lagrene on one track) need no translation. A delight.

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To read more posts from Fernando Gonzalez and “Jazz With An Accent” click HERE.


CD Reviews: Music of the Holiday Season

December 8, 2011

By Faith Frenz

Carole King

A Holiday Carole (Hear Music)

A delightful gift for the season, with Carole’s bubbly personality breathing new life into some old chestnuts — “Sleigh Ride” and “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” among them. A Holiday Carole was recorded in Los Angeles as a collaboration with family and friends and is enhanced with the personal touch of a collection of family pictures on the insert.  In an additional family connection, the album was produced by her daughter, Louise Goffin, who also contributed four original songs. The singing is vintage 70’s Carole King. Even though she plays the piano on only three numbers — “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, and “New Year’s Day” — her delightful exuberance is something we can always welcome a little more of in these troubled days.

Elf: The Broadway Musical

Original Broadway Cast Recording (Ghostlight Records)

Based on the New Line Cinema film Elf, the Broadway musical of the same title is faithful to the sweet and sentimental story of a human baby who is raised by Santa’s elves.  Until he grows to maturity and gets Santa’s permission to return home to New York to find his parents and teach them the true meaning of Christmas.

Although not presently running on Broadway, the album (just released) could be considered a return engagement for the original cast. With song titles like “Sparklejollytwinklejingley,” “Nobody Cares About Santa Claus,” “There is a Santa Claus,” and “Never Fall in Love with an Elf,” I think one can get the general idea of the book and the score. All bounce and cheer, if you are a Broadway Musical fan, this album is worth adding to your collection. The insert contains all the credits and lyrics for the entire libretto. And it also has tons of holiday cheer.

Tony Bennett

The Classic Christmas Album (RPM Records/Columbia Legacy)

A 40-year legacy of Christmas songs produced over the years in a catalog of five holiday albums is the source of all but one of the 18 chestnuts selected for this 2011 Classic Christmas Album. You can either purchase this budget priced album if you want to hear a whole lot of Tony Bennett, or go online to purchase indiviual MP3s of just your favs, of which there are no doubt quite a few.

As you can imagine, 40 years will provide a broad spectrum of style and orchestration, with something for everyone, from big swing orchestra to small jazz combo. The selections are balanced between  traditional Christmas Carols such as “The First Noel” and sentimental holiday classics like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”.  This is really an album which has something for everyone, especially Tony Bennett fans.

Various Artists

Putumayo Presents A Celtic Christmas (Putumayo)

A warm and inspiring collection of Christmas themed music derived from traditional solstice carols with Celtic roots (Scotch, Irish, English and French) that are hundreds of years old, performed with accordians, harps, pennywhistles and fiddles. The music creates an ambiance of nostalgic Christmas carollng in a cold winter’s night — a community setting to put aside ones troubles and rejoice in the season of celebration.

The pagan roots of the season show through as well,  especially in songs such as Noel Nouvelet, which is a 15th Century French New Year’s carol. The album’s pamphlet, rich with historical background for this most engaging collection of  winter holiday music, helps to enhance the listening experience, with its refreshing orchestrations and comfortable balance of diverse vocals. Especially notable are the Dougie MacLean rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” and a Gaelic translation of “White Christmas.” A refreshing change from the old chestnuts and highly recommended for folks (like me) who program their winter holidays with music 24/7.


CD Reviews: Machito, Bobby Sanabria, Arturo O’Farrill, Pedro Giraudo

July 20, 2011

Big Band with a Latin Accent,Then & Now.

By Fernando Gonzalez

El Padrino (Fania/Codigo)

Machito

The big band occupies a special place in Latin Jazz history. For starters, in the 1940s and ‘50s, the orchestras led by Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez and Machito, the real life Mambo Kings, not only defined a certain sound, putting jazz instrumentation, harmonies and improvisation to true Afro-Caribbean grooves, but also seemed to bring out the whole country to the dance floor.

A lot has happened since.

Those classic bands remain the high water mark in Afro-Caribbean jazz.  But the term Latin Jazz has regained its true meaning,  encompassing a broader, truly Pan American sound.

The two-disc compilation El Padrino  revisits the work of Frank “Machito” Grillo and his exceptional band The Afro-Cubans. Anchored by friend and his brother-in-law,  saxophonist Mario Bauzá, an essential figure in the development of Latin Jazz, Machito and His Afro-Cuban blended sophisticated jazz arrangements and improvisations over authentic Afro-Cuban rhythms.  The results were explosive.

Collections such as El Padrino are samplers, conditioned by available recordings, licensing issues, and the curator´s taste. That said, the music here is a treat.  Fittingly, the set opens with “Tanga,” a Bauzá composition considered the first Latin jazz piece,  and goes from there. It includes fine examples of the band in full flight (check “Wild Jungle,” “Cannonology,” featuring Cannonball Adderley, Ray Santos’ Latinized blues “Azulito,” or “Mambo a la Savoy,” for starters).  And it also showcases the woefully underrated singer Graciela Pérez — Machito´s foster sister, better known simply as Graciela. Recognized as an interpreter of ballads, her work on El Padrino offers a good argument for reconsidering her standing as a big band singer, contributing a sense of swing and a certain cheeky sassiness (check “Si Si No No”) to the music. The collection also includes tracks with Marcelino Guerra (“El Guardia con El Tolete”), and flutist Herbie Mann (“Brazilian Soft Shoe,” “Love Chant”).

Cooly riding this beast of a band was Machito, front man, maraquero (maracas player) extraordinaire, and a singer with an expressive, caramel toned voice and impeccable sense of time.  Decades after it was a originally played and recorded, Machito’s music has lost none of its power and grace.

Tito Puente Masterworks Live (Jazzheads)

Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, Conducted by Bobby Sanabria

Timbalero, composer, and bandleader Tito Puente once built an explosive orchestra that became one of the friendly competitors of Machito’s band at the now legendary Palladium Ballroom on West 53rd St. and Broadway.  Leading a big band of students at the Manhattan School of Music, drummer, percussionist and educator Bobby Sanabria celebrates Puente’s work in Tito Puente’s Masterworks Live.

The repertoire nods to Afro-Cuban religious music (“Elegua Changó”),  some classics (“Picadillo,” “Ran Kan Kan,” “Cuban Nightmare,” but not “Oye Como Va”),  and a couple of jazz standards (Oscar Pettiford’s “Bohemia After Dark,” “Autumn Leaves”).

While most of the arrangements in this recording are reconstructed from Puente’s original versions, as Sanabria explicitly points out in the album notes, “the performances here are not nostalgic.”  Instead, he and his charges update Puente’s sound while going for the precision and excitement of his bands. That’s not only a worthy tribute to the past, but also a celebration of the future of this music.

40 Acres and a Burro (Zoho)

Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra

Pianist and composer Arturo O’Farrill has held together the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra for more than three years after losing its home base at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Better yet, O’Farrill and the orchestra have continued to push and grow, exploring beyond Afro Cuban music while consistently producing rich, valuable work.

In 40 Acres and a Burro, O’Farrill smartly explores rumba (the explosive “Rumba Urbana”) and Puerto Rican bomba (in the knotty, angular “A Wise Latina,” written to honor Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor).  He looks into Brazilian choro (Pixinguinha’s “Um a Zero” in a fine arrangement by Nailor Proveta — leader of the excellent Banda Mantiqueira – featuring superb playing by Paquito D’Rivera on clarinet).  There’s also Afro-Peruvian festejo (“El Sur”), modern tango (Astor Piazzolla’s “Tanguango”, turned here into a tart, urgent New Yorker tango),  an Afro-Latin-Celtic piece (“She Moves Through The Fair”) and a couple of classics, the bolero “Almendra” and  Dizzy’s “A Night In Tunisia.”

Not surprisingly, O’Farrill and the band sound at once precise and loose-fitting. There is brilliant ensemble playing and soloing and, most engaging, they also sound fearless. They can even transmute anger and pointed  social commentary into sly fun — just check the title track.

Córdoba (Zoho)

Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra

While O’Farrill’s adventurous big band Latin Jazz takes Afro-Caribbean rhythms as a point of departure, New York based bassist and composer Pedro Giraudo anchors his music on traditional styles of his native Argentina.  Córdoba — titled after the Mediterranean city, and a province in Argentina where Giraudo was born — is his  fifth album as a leader and shows an increasingly sure hand both in writing and arranging.

The approach here is orchestral, not merely tutti intros plus solos over the rhythm section and splashes of big band writing.  Rather, Giraudo uses sectional call and response, contrapuntal textures, tempo changes, and a muscular use of the rhythm section. There’s a reason why his press material speak of Charles Mingus, Carla Bley, and Duke Ellington as influences.

As foundation, Giraudo uses traditional rural Argentine styles — the slow, blues-like baguala,  the zamba,  and the chacarera. This is big band Latin Jazz with a different, fresh  accent.


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