Jazz With An Accent: Drummin’ Back Out Into the World — CDs by Arturo O’Farrill and Ginger Baker

August 6, 2014

By Fernando Gonzalez

Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra

The Offense of the Drum (Motema)

Maestro Mario Bauzá — trumpeter, saxophonist and music director of Machito and His Afro- Cubans, direct link between Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo and a key figure in blending jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms — scoffed at the label Latin Jazz.

“What they call Latin jazz is not Latin jazz. That’s Afro-Cuban jazz,” he would say in his inimitable growl. It wasn’t just that “Latin jazz” blurred the Afro-Cuban contribution. It was also that, for him, Latin jazz suggested a different, more varied mix — incorporating Argentine tangos, Colombian cumbias, Venezuelan joropos or Puerto Rican bomba y plena.  He would then name artists such as Paquito D’Rivera, Gato Barbieri or Jorge Dalto as worthy
practitioners.

It was the 1980s and it was a short roll call.  Today, he would’ve had a much longer and broader list.

But Bauzá would have been specially proud of the work of pianist and bandleader Arturo O’Farrill, the son of his friend and collaborator, the great Cuban arranger and bandleader Chico O ́Farrill.

For 12 years, sometimes seemingly hidden in plain view, Arturo O ́Farrill has carried on an extraordinary effort, not only organizing and keeping alive an 18-piece big band but doing so while also expanding the vocabulary of Afro-Cuban jazz into a truly Pan-Latin Latin jazz.  By now, the book of the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO) includes not only some of the great standards of Afro-Cuban jazz but also pieces blending in tangos, choros and Peruvian festejos.  In The Offense of The Drum, O ́Farrill both takes it further out and brings it all home.  With the drums as the foundational center of the music, the ALJO connects diverse traditions  creatively but also rather organically.

So a tribute to the shared spirits and grooves in Havana and New Orleans, a musical dialogue  in “On The Corner of Malecón and Bourbon,” flows into a sly Colombian porro groove and  allusions to Colombian papayera band (a type of brass street band) on “Mercado en Domingo.”  But exploring the groove doesn’t preclude a reflective “Gonossiene 3 (Tientos),” which  explodes Erik Satie’s music Arabic elements with a flamenco perspective.

And O’Farrill is neither afraid of collaborations — such as those with pianist Vijay Iyer (the odd  metered “The Mad Hatter”) and DJ Logic (“They Came” which also explores spoken poetry)  — nor having a good time, as with the eminently danceable salsa track, “Alma Vacía,” or the  classic “Iko Iko” – featuring alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, a Big Chief Mardi Gras Indian –  reinvented here as a joyous, bouncing Cuban/New Orleans party groove.

Throughout, the arranging is imaginative, exploring the character of the music and the  instrumental possibilities of the band, while the soloing (especially by O’Farrill and Iyer on  piano, Rafi Malkiel, euphonium and Harrison on sax) is consistently smart and purposeful.  Creative, swinging and open to the world, The Offense of The Drum is Latin jazz at its best.

Offense of the Drum Electronic Press Kit

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Ginger Baker

Why? (Motema)

While lasting only two years, 1966 – 1968, the British trio Cream had an oversized impact in  modern popular music. At different times, Cream has been claimed as ancestor and inspiration  by rock musicians of nearly all stripes, from fusion to heavy metal.

But jazz has more than a fair claim to their legacy too. In fact, one doesn’t need to go back to  their epic version of Skip James’ “I’m So Glad,” in the group’s final Goodbye, to connect the  dots between the jazz tradition and their instrumental virtuosity, their approach to improvisation  and open-ended treatment of the blues. Set aside the pop-rock imagery for a second and think of, say, a saxophone playing the guitar lines and you are closer to an avant-jazz trio than a rock band.

That shouldn’t be a surprise. The two guys working the engine room of Cream, bassist  Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker, were educated in, and fans of, jazz. Guitarist Eric Clapton was a different story — and his post-Cream, MOR career is evidence enough. In his autobiography, Bruce seems to suggest that two-thirds of Cream thought of it as a jazz trio adding, jokingly one would hope, that they just wouldn’t tell Clapton about it.

With his new album Why?, his first in 16 years, Baker, 75, seems to be closing the circle, returning once again, in one gesture, to his old loves — jazz (including two appealing trio records in the 90s with Bill Frisell and Charlie Haden), African music and, essentially, the trio format (replacing the guitar with a horn and in fact playing without a chordal instrument this time).

Baker’s band these days, Jazz Confusion, features Pee Wee Ellis on sax, Alec Dankworth, bass and Abass Dodoo, percussion, and offers the drummer a smart, strong, no-frills vehicle.  The repertoire in Why? also suggests a bringing-it-all-home feel.

It’s comprised mainly of Baker’s originals, including “Ain Temouchant,” recorded with Frisell and Haden on Going Back Home (1994); “Cyril Davis,” (sic) a tribute to the British harmonica blues player Cyril Davies, and trumpeter Ron Miles’ “Ginger Spice,” both first recorded on Baker’s Coward of the County (1998); and the title track, a meditation on his life and work including a tip of the hat to the late bandleader Graham Bond.

The set also includes “Aiko Biaye,” an update of a Nigerian song Baker recorded in 1970 with Air Force, his short-lived sui generis big band; Ellis’ “Twelve and More Blues,” and a couple of jazz standards, Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” and the irresistible “St. Thomas,” by Sonny Rollins.  Throughout, Ellis is an economic and tightly focused improviser, even as he takes flight on  tracks such as “St Thomas” and his own “Twelve and More,” remade here with a post-bop
swing. Dankworth is solid and fluid throughout, anchoring the group and providing measured, eloquent soloing.

Baker drives the music forward with his distinct drive and African-tinged tom-tom and hi-hat sound. There it might not be in his playing the relentless, maniacal intensity of his heyday (how could there be?) but Baker’s craftiness and musicality more than makes up for what he might lack at this point in energy. In Why? Baker embraces his past — but don’t expect a warm-and fuzzy nostalgia trip. To quote the title of the terrific Jay Bulger 2012 documentary about him, Beware of Mr. Baker. Yep. And that’s a good thing.

Beware of Mr. Baker

To read more posts, reviews and essays by Fernando Gonzalez click HERE


Jazz (and beyond) With An Accent: A Bad Moon Rising for The Final

July 12, 2014

By Fernando Gonzalez

After a month of a World Cup, many Americans have come to learn some of the, umm, peculiarities of fútbol (soccer if you must), including its rituals both in the pitch and the stands.

Yes, Virginia, in places such as Argentina and Germany, who meet in the final, fútbol is a religion.

The chanting by the followers of a team can sometimes be as distinct as the colors of a club´s shirt. Perhaps the most obvious example is British Premier League’s Liverpool´s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” — a Rodgers and Hammerstein tune from their show Carousel, of all things.

(For a history check click HERE. )

Starting at about 4 minutes into this video you can hear about 95,000 people sing it along. You don´t need to even be interested in soccer to be moved by it.  Click HERE.

This Sunday, Argentina’s followers will support their team with a song that, if you pay attention, will sound familiar to many Americans: yep, that’s Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising.” With new lyrics, in Spanish of course, including some needling of arch rival Brazil, and the eternal argument among fans over Maradona and Pele, it has become a favorite of the Argentine fans.

Why that song? Why now? (The song was popular in 1969.) How did it make it to the stands? That’s a mystery for a story, another day. In the meantime, there’s one more game to play.

Go Argentina.

 


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.

 


Jazz With an Accent: The Preservation Hall Jazz Band; Horacio “Chivo” Borraro; Guerrilla Flamenco

June 20, 2012

By Fernando Gonzalez

 The Joy of Jazz

If their  recent show in Coral Gables, Florida, was any indication, and you love jazz, you need to hear the Preservation Hall Jazz Band live. You might dismiss it, as I once did, as just a repertory band, a sort of charming, rolling live museum act evoking what might-have-been. And there might be some of that. But with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band you also get the joy of jazz, smart, angst-free jazz, played with great professionalism but also with pleasure and a sense of humor (watching sousaphone player Ronell Johnson march in place, bob, weave and turn all the way through the performance was part of my enjoyment that night).

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

The music was soulful and swung forcefully yet with a casual grace of a conversation among old friends, counterlines seem to grow along, curling like vines around the main melody. It was both sturdy and lithe, complex yet appealing.  The ensemble played what it must, but the audience clearly felt invited in. I suspect jazz gained a few more believers that night. Having fun is an undervalued concept in jazz — and the music has paid dearly for it. But the Preservation Hall Jazz Band taught a master class in jazz disguised as a good-time show. That’s an art in itself — and jazz has had some great practitioners. (Dizzy is a prime example of the genius disguised as entertainer).

Obviously, not every style in jazz lends itself easily to this approach. But by definition, jazz will always live in that netherworld between art music and entertainment. It’s both a weakness and a source of strength. And to have a place in the cultural marketplace, jazz needs to connect with audiences, be it in the composition, the playing or the presentation.

It played out vividly before me at that show by The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a ensemble created 50 years ago precisely to evoke the very roots of jazz — in substance and form.

No, the challenge is not new, but the urgency is — or we can look at classical music and see the future of jazz.

Click HERE to read an iRoM review of a performance by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the Playboy Jazz Festival in the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday, June 16.

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R.I.P. Horacio “Chivo” Borraro

It’s a shame that few outside Argentina knew of saxophonist and clarinetist Horacio “Chivo” Borraro, who died on May 31 at age 90 in Buenos Aires.

Horacio “Chico” Borraro

A player, composer and arranger, Borraro was a renaissance man. He was also an architect and worked, at different times, as a painter, designer, photographer and cartoonist. An early bebopper, Borraro was one of the founders of the Bop Club in Buenos Aires in the early 50s and a key figure in a small but sturdy scene that nurtured artists such as Lalo Schifrin and Leandro “Gato” Barbieri.

El “Chivo” Borraro was an active player from the 1930´s to the 1990´s — and by the time he stopped he had tried his hand at nearly every jazz style, all the way to free jazz. He had a Coltranean, brawny sound on the tenor, but quit when he “started to realize I didn´t have the will to play I always had.”

“I was having trouble reaching the upper octave of the saxophone, so I wasn´t able to do what I wanted to do with the horn anymore,” he told Miguel Bronfman for a story in The Buenos Aires Herald in 2005. “So I stopped playing, and I didn´t lament it, everything begins and everything ends. So I sold the saxophone and I bought a keyboard instead, with which I make arrangements for friends. I was getting frustrated with the sax, so I decided to retire myself with the championship belt, before I got knocked out.”

Much of Borraro’s music has become available through reissues in recent years and it’s worth exploring. Here’s a sample:

“Half & half”

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Guerrilla Flamenco

The European colleagues of the greedy geniuses at Wall Street who almost destroyed the world economy  a few years ago are working hard in their own countries to give it another try. In a globalized economy, don’t think it’s someone else’s problem.

Spain is the latest casualty and as it’s the norm, the banks are in line to be saved. The people are to fend for themselves. (Stop me if you heard this before.)

One form of Spanish protest has been guerrilla flamenco performances in the banks.  It is in Spanish, but the message is clear. Maybe we can have a blues version of this in some JP Morgan branch?

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Photo of Preservation Hall Jazz Band by Bonnie Perkinson.


Jazz With an Accent: Music, the Brain and the Internet

May 30, 2012

Twitter Music

By Fernando Gonzalez

A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to hear the David Sanchez Quartet with Stefon Harris in concert. It was, by any reasonable jazz standard, a beautiful performance. The music, for the most part originals, was compelling and nicely designed. The group worked like a chamber ensemble, eschewing look-at-me posturing to actually listen to each other and maintain the music front and center. And when the players did solo, they did it with imagination and eloquence.

What troubled me about the performance had to do with technology, the Internet and my brain.

The Internet

As a music journalist/critic, I am a sort of professional listener. Moreover, I was educated as a musician. I was once a professional player and composer. And yet that Saturday evening, at times, I found myself lost. Worse yet, I found myself getting impatient with the length of a piece or a particular solo. The concert had a break (at the request of the promoter, explained Sanchez) and yet it felt to me like a marathon.

The audience — I’d estimate the average age in the mid-50s — listened politely and applauded at the expected moments, neither particularly engaged, nor actively disapproving.

Perhaps most, if not all, of my issues that night might be chalked up to my own deficiencies and that’s that. Then again, if it didn’t engage me, well, it didn’t engage me. Perhaps the concert was not as good as I thought. Perhaps.

But the experience was also a personal reminder of how technology is rewiring our brains.

“We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us,” wrote Marshall McLuhan in his seminal Understanding Media.

Instruments such as Google, tablets and smart phones are profoundly affecting the way we read, look, listen, think and even use our memory. And they do it in ways we are not even aware of. (Quick, write down the phone numbers of three close friends or family members. I thought so.)

“I can’t read War and Peace anymore. I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even blog posts of more than three or four paragraphs are too much to absorb. I skim it,” says a pathologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School and blogger on Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, a book on the effects of the Internet on our brains.

What similar impact might our new tools might have upon our listening habits and, inevitably as a result, on the creation, performance, presentation and consuming of music?

Because, after all, as much as many look at the development of jazz with a Great Man Theory of history (say Armstrong to Ellington to Parker to Miles to Coltrane….), other, more mundane factors have played significant roles in shaping the music.

The advent of the long playing disc granted composers, arrangers and improvisers possibilities up to then unthinkable. The size of the clubs in 52nd St. might have played a greater role in the music going from big bands to small groups (and thus spurring on the development of bebop) than the talent of any one particular musician.

We should anticipate that the changes that technology continues to make to the way we process information will also have consequences.

I am not saying anything startlingly new or particularly astute here. In fact others have said it better. (The subject is brilliantly addressed by Carr in The Shallows.)

If there is a (modest) contribution to the discussion here, it is in asking how these changes are affecting our listening to music in general and jazz in particular – and how, in turn, this will shape the way music is created, designed and presented.

After all, music is an art form that happens in time and depends on memory. In the specific case of jazz, even in its most conventional format, to appreciate the reinterpretation and commentary suggested by the improvisation, the listener must be able to have some recall of the original material. Otherwise, it’s gibberish or some form of musical gymnastics.

In other words, as our memory withers, replaced by gadgets, and our attention span gets shorter and shorter, will there be in a few years an audience capable of remembering an eight-bar-theme that happened five, 10 minutes earlier? And if the listeners are not able to recall even the most basic theme, or lack the patience and discipline to connect the dots over a simple musical form, what could they then make of an improvisation?  (Or in classical music: What happens with Bruckner or Mahler?)

And as audiences inevitably get increasingly lost and frustrated and impatient, go looking for something shorter and simpler, what can the composers, improvisers and presenters do?  In all fairness, is there anything they should do?

On that Saturday night, a couple of weeks ago, David Sanchez and his group played a concert that at times had me baffled and irritated because, well, it had no hyperlinks, no keywords, no way to skim over and get faster to the good parts.

What did they expect?

Come to think of it, what do we expect?

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


Jazz With an Accent: New CDs From Arturo Sandoval and Leni Stern

May 13, 2012

 By Fernando Gonzalez

There might be a crisis in the business of music, but judging by recent releases, not on the making of music. There is a lot to catch up with. Here are two worthy new records.

Arturo Sandoval

Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You) (Concord)

Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You), is trumpeter Arturo Sandoval’stribute to Dizzy Gillespie, his mentor and friend and a key player in his defection from Cuba in 1990.

The disc opens with Gillespie introducing Sandoval as “one of the young masters of the trumpet,” at a show in the 1980s, and the announcement flows smoothly into a smartly arranged version of “Be Bop” that sets the tone. The repertoire is made of Dizzy’s classics and considering Sandoval’s track record it might have been fair to expect a disc full of fireworks and loud, bright and shiny moments. Hard core Sandoval fans will not be disappointed — but Dear Diz is more than that. The music is center stage here, reframed in thoughtful arrangements for big band, such as those by Gordon Goodwin (“Be Bop,” “Salt Peanuts”), pianist Shelly Berg  (“Birk’s Works” evoking Henry Mancini’s style) and Wally Minko (“A Night in Tunisia”) but also Nan Schwartz’s “Con Alma,” which becomes here an elegy for string quartet and trumpet.

Moreover, Sandoval is surrounded by an all-star cast that includes vibist Gary Burton, saxophonists Bob Mintzer and Ed Calle, and organist Joey De Francesco. Actor and music-fan-turned-player-and-producer Andy Garcia, a friend of Sandoval who also starred on 2001’s HBO biopic, For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story, is credited on percussion.

The disc closes with a touching bookend: Sandoval singing and playing his ballad “Every Day I Think of You,” an unabashed love letter to Gillespie.

More often than not, tributes are barely more than marketing ploys covering for a lack of ideas. Well thought out and heartfelt, Dear Diz is a worthy exception.

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Leni Stern

Sabani (Leni Stern Recordings)

Guitarist Leni Stern has followed a circuitous path to Mali – beginning in Munich,  with stops in New York, Boston, the Peruvian rainforest and Benin, where she helped found a music school. Her recent recordings ( Africa, 2007; Alu Maye; 2007; and Sa Belle Belle Ba, 2010) not only have offered a very satisfying, beautifully crafted global musical fusion, but also have served to document her immersion in African culture. This is not an artist on a cultural safari. In those recordings, she draws much from the local music and musicians — but also allows herself to be changed by them.

Perhaps it’s only natural then than Sabani, her most recent project, features Stern playing the n’goni, a West African lute-like instrument referred by some as an ancestor of the banjo, in a stripped-down trio setting. (Sabani means three in the Bambara language spoken in Mali.)

Recorded at Malian pop superstar Salif Keita’s Mouffou Studios in Bamako, Sabani features Stern on electric and acoustic guitars, n’goni and vocals, along with two standout players from Keita’s band, Haruna Samake on string instruments, and Mamadou “Prince” Kone, percussion.

The patterns played by the plucked string instruments – there are several combinations throughout the recording – create a lattice effect that, floating over a subtle but definite groove, feels at once delicate and sturdy, ethereal and swinging, even urgent on its own terms (check “Sorcerer,” “I Was Born,” or “The Cat Stole The Moon”).

In other instances, such as “Like A Thief,” the music takes on an unexpectedly elegiac tone – a song Stern says was inspired by flamenco singer Diego El Cigala.

Stern’s singing (all in English) is an acquired taste, but even at its artless moments, it works well in context. It sounds real. And if it also sounds a bit rough-edged or inelegant (especially when compared to that of the Malian singers on the recording) so be it. It’s part of this album’s beauty.

Sabani sounds like what happens in a true encounter between people from different worlds who can both play and listen.

 

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


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