Picks of the Week: June 1 – 6

May 31, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– June 1. (Tues.) Guitar Night. John Pisano, Barry Zweig. John Belzaguy.  A pair of veteran guitarists – each with an overflowing resume of memorable appearances – have a typical Guitar Night jam with the solid backing of bassist Belzaguy.   Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

Lisa Hilton

– June 1. (Tues.) Lisa Hilton.  Described as a “lioness of jazz” by JazzReview magazine, Hilton is about to release her 12th U.S. recording, Nuance. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.  On Saturday, June 5, Hilton will also give an onstage interview and performance for visually-impaired students from Junior Blind America at the Grammy Museum.  The appearance is part of her continuing efforts to bring music to the visually impaired in Los Angeles, Boston and New York.

– June 2. (Wed.)  Austin Peralta/Javier Santiago Project.  Pianist Peralta had two CDs released in Japan by the age of 16.  Approaching his 20th birthday, the talented young player – the son of legendary skateboarder and film director Stacy Peralta – shows off his wares amid the simmering rhythms of the Javier Santiago Project.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– June 2 & 3. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Partch: Even Wild Horses.  Harry Partch was such an original musical thinker that he re-imagined the concept of musical pitch intervals, then created an array of instruments designed to play those intervals.  John Schneider continues his superb survey of Partch’s extraordinary music with Even Wild Horses–Dance Music for an Absent Drama and Cloud Chambe. Also on the program: Lou Harrison‘s Canticle #3, the West Coast debut of Anne LeBaron‘s Southern Ephemera, and Madeline Tourtelot‘s MiRotate the Body in All Its Planes REDCAT.  (213) 237-2800.

Mike Lang

– June 4. (Fri.) Mike Lang Trio.  PianistLang’s far-ranging career reaches from backing Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald to performing on more than 2,000 film scores.  But here’s a rare opportunity to experience his own music, up close and personal. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

– June 4. (Fri.)  Calabria Foti.  Blessed with a rich, multi-hued voice, Foti enhances it with impressive musicality and an engaging sense of phrasing.  The Back Room At Henri’s.   (818) 346-5582.

– June 4. (Fri.)  Sal Marquez with the Pat Senatore Trio.  One of the Southland’s premiere trumpeters, Marguez has found a unique pathway for himself, somewhere between the lyricism of Miles Davis and the fire of Freddie Hubbard.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

– June 4. (Fri.)  Bern.  Drummer Bernie Dresel leads his gang of funk and groove driven instrumenalists and singers through the music of Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, Prince, the Beatles and beyond.  Vitello’s. m (818) 769-0905.

– June 4 & 5. (Fri. & Sat. )  Sara Gazarek.  Still on the rise, Gazarek has all the qualities that make a prime jazz artist.  She’s won a Down Beat Student Music Award, and hit the top 10 in Billboard jazz charts with her first album.  But she’s still not receiving the full attention that her finely honed talents deserve.  The Café Metropol.

Rita Moreno

– June 5. (Sat.) Rita Moreno.  She completely inhabited the role of Maria in the film version of West Side Story, winning an Academy Award for her work.  And that was only one of the accomplishments in a career that has also produced an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony, as well.  Moreno doesn’t do club dates often, so don’t miss this rare opportunity to see a legendary entertainer in action.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– June 5. (Sat.) Rickey Woodard with the John Heard Trio.  L.A.’s had more than its share of impressive saxophonists over the years.  And Woodard belongs in the very top echelon of that extraordinary group.  Always a pleasure to hear, he’s at his best performing with bassist Heard and his group in the cozy setting of Charlie O’s.    (818) 994-3058.

– June 5. (Sat.)  Grant Geissman.  Busy, versatile guitarist Geissman celebrates Cool Man Cool, the latest in his long string of entertaining recordings.  Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– June 5. (Sat.)  Gary Lucas solo acoustic. The Grammy-nominated veteran of Captain Beefheart has been described by Rolling Stone as “one of the best and most original guitarists in America.”  And that’s a reasonable description for a musician who’s played with both Leonard Bernstein and Lou Reed (among others).  McCabes. (310) 828-4497.

– June 6. (Sun.)  Graham Dechter and the Adam Schroeder Quartet.  Dechter’s guitar and Schroeder’s baritone sax make for one of the more unique timbral sounds in jazz.  Add to that the sturdy swing capabilities of both players, and expect an evening of high energy.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

– June 6. (Sun.)  Element Band.  This entertaining, eclectic ensemble is a living definition of the phrase “World Music.”  Performing in Armenian, French, Greek, Spanish, English, Arabic, Portuguese, Italian, Bulgarian and Farsi, they offer a little something for almost every ethnic or musical taste.  Guest star Italian singer Giovanna Gattuso adds her own elegant touch to the proceedings.  The Ford Amphitheatre. (323) 461-3673


– June 6. (Sun.)  “Playboy Jazz in Warner Park.” The build-up to the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl on June 12 & 13 continues with another free Playboy community event.  Although the Warner concerts only began a couple of years ago, they’ve already become one of the early Summer’s most popular jazz events.  And the price is right.  This year’s program features four time Grammy nominated singer Oleta Adams, keyboardist Lao Tizer, master jazz trumpeter Sal Marquez, and the Calabasas High School Jazz Band (one of the 15 finalists in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington CompetitionPlayboy Jazz in Warner Park.   (310) 450-1173.

San Francisco

– June 1 & 2. (Tues. & Wed.)  Jane Monheit. Always one of the most gorgeous voices in jazz, Monheit is also an original jazz stylist, approaching everything she sings with a unique combination of rhythmic swing and lyrical imagination. Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

– June 1 & 2. (Tues. & Wed.)  Pat Martino.  Guitarist Martino has essentially had to learn to play the guitar twice, as the result of a near-fatal brain aneurysm in 1980.  But he’s done it superbly, firmly establishing his position as one of jazz’s finest veteran artists.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

John Handy

– June 3. (Thurs.)  John Handy. Forty-five years after his remarkable performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival made him a highly visible jazz figure, Handy – who has also had a long career as an educator – continues to be a an eminently listenable alto saxophonist.  Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

– June 4 – 6. (Fri. – Sun)  Dave Holland Quintet.  Bassist Holland’s interests have taken him in all directions – in recent years with a big band as well as a little big band.  This time, he’s back to basics, with a quintet that includes the all-star line-up of saxophonist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibist Steve Nelson, and drummer Nate Smith. Yoshi’s Oakland.(510) 238-9200.

– June 4 – 6. (Fri. – Sun.) Dr. John & the Lower 911. One of the music world’s true originals, Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) has been one of the irrepressible symbols of New Orleans for decades.  And he’s still going strong, winning a Grammy last year for “City That Care Forgot.” Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

New York

– June 1 – 5. (Tues. – Sat.)  Stacey Kent.  Wisely focusing her career upon international audiences, Kent has achieved visibility reaching beyond that of many of her contemporaries.  Her latest album, Raconte-Moi, sung in French underscores her global outreach.  Birdland.   581-3080.

– June 3 – 6. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Jacky Terrasson Trio. French/American pianist Terrasson – well-regarded since he won the 1993 Thelonious Monk Piano Competition – celebrates the release of his latest album, Push. Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

– June 3 – 6. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Dee Dee Bridgewater. Her recordings are always a pleasure to hear, and the latest — Eleanor Fagan: To Billie With Love From Dee Dee Bridgewater – is an extraordinary Billie Holiday tribute.  But Bridgewater in person is even more unique, more dynamic.  This is one to place on your “Don’t Miss” list.  The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

Washington, D.C.

– June 1 – 13.  D.C. Jazz Festival. It was originally titled the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival.  But whatever the name, this is one of the early Summer’s most impressive assemblages of all-star talent.  Among the major names:  Claudio Roditi, Roberta Flack, Eddie Palmieri, Kenny Barron, Paquito D’Rivera, Regina Carter, Roberta Gambarini, Roy Hargrove, and more.  The D.C. Jazz Festival.

Live Jazz: The Eric Reed Trio at Vitello’s

May 31, 2010

By Tony Gieske

Eric Reed had stationed the grand piano at stage left at Vitello’s Saturday night so as to give his trio members equal exposure — Ralph Penland, the drummer, at stage right and Hamilton Price, his young bassist, in the middle, next to the keyboard.

Eric Reed

It was a little bit like a surgeon preparing to operate, but when “Sweet and Lovely” came out in a gently loping version, it was all jazz, reaching back to the richly chorded days of the great Herbie Nichols. The latter was remembered later on in an equally swinging number called “ICHN.”

Count Basie was remembered, too, in the familiar plink, plank, plonk to end this number. Not to mention the warm and wonderful swing — yes, that old stuff — generated by Penland and Price.

Ralph Penland

“Autumn Leaves” kept things whirling along at a brisk tempo while Reed explored  more nooks and crannies of jazz piano history in his own well-balanced way.

“I Got Nothin’ ” was a Reed original in 3/4 time that pretty much lived up to its title, and a Billy Joel tune called “Honesty” could have been called “Triviality.” The leader redeemed them both with his unfailing creativity.

Thelonious Monk, the subject of one of Reed’s recent albums, was the inspiration of the night’s redeeming closer, “Blue Monk.”

Hamilton Price

Reed began it with a helping of old-fashioned rousing stride, then progressed with nary a dull moment through single finger and block chords to a big band ending. It was a feast for the ear, and although nobody’s feet did their stuff, the ghost of Fats Waller strolled invisibly along.

Price, known for his work with Gerry Gibbs, Billy Childs and Melissa Morgan, got a clear and in-tune sound in comping and soloed with sophistication, a word that pretty well describes the stalwart Penland.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  To read more reviews by Tony Gieske, click here.

Live Jazz: David Sanborn and Joey DeFrancesco at Catalina Bar & Grill

May 29, 2010

By Tony Gieske

It was always a pleasure to hear a few superblue bars from David Sanborn when he played a cue on Saturday Night Live.

So you’d think an evening with the alto saxophonist and the equally blues-ept B3 man, Joey DeFrancesco, would be a long, lovable look into the hypnotic blue flame.

Well, it was long. But there came a happy ending.

Sanborn jumped right in with both feet, both hands and both lips at the outset of a number — they were all pretty much the same — and out they came, every blues lick in captivity, loud and clear. Pity he didn’t use both ears.

When he played softly, as in a ballad dedicated to his new granddaughter, he showed signs of honest emotion, a welcome  island in the spate of overheated industrialized output. Do we need to say that the blues should start softly and build?

DeFrancesco would let up for a few bars, but you knew he, too, was going to cream you eventually. (I should mention that he once got out a trumpet and played it with one hand. Not bad.)

So that would have been the story until late in the set, when the prolific and ingenious bass guitarist Marcus Miller and the virtuoso trumpeter Arturo Sandoval were invited to the bandstand and tore it up big time.

Miller, the renowned music producer and film scorer who used to tour with Miles Davis, plied one of the fretless basses he invented as he gave eye-cues to drummer Louis Wright, and they both drove iron tirelessly.

And the listeners that filled Catalina’s tables could go home saying they heard Arturo Sandoval play growl, an unusual product from the super-legitimate trumpet master. He got right down and played the blues, Afro without the Cuban.

And so it went: a slow-buildup, a rip-roaring finish. That’s what you can get when the big dogs cut loose.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  Read and see more of Tony Gieske’s jazz essays and photos at his personal web site tonyspage.com.

Quotation of the Week: Sir Thomas Beecham

May 28, 2010


At a rehearsal, when he was dissatisfied with the playing of a female cellist, the famous English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, reportedly said this:

“Madam, you have between your legs an instrument capable of giving pleasure to thousands, and all you can do is scratch it.”

– Sir Thomas Beecham.

To read more Quotations of the Week click here.

Q & A: Kim Wilson

May 28, 2010

The State Of The Blues of Yesterday And Today

By Devon Wendell

I recently had a candid conversation with Kim Wilson.  Wilson has been the front man and co-founder of The Fabulous Thunderbirds for over 30 years now and has also enjoyed a fruitful and influential solo career.  Considered by many to be one of the greatest blues harmonica players and singers alive, he has shared his unique blend of blues, soul, and rock with some of the greatest pioneers in music: Muddy Waters, Albert Collins, Eddie Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, John Lee Hooker, Paul Simon, Buddy Guy, and many more. Wilson continues to tour and to preserve American musical history.

DW:  How do you see the state of the blues today? Are the glory days over?

KW: Yes, been over for many years. All you can do is be nostalgic and modern at the same time.  When I was growing up, the college kids were finding Muddy Waters plus the English kids were so enthusiastic and gave a lot of publicity to the older American blues players. There was so much going on in the ’60s with the blues, but the true heydays were from ’51-’59. That period will never be topped. You listen to those recordings of Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, and Little Walter, and wow!  People like myself, Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Lazy Lester and Albert Collins to name a few, continued through the ’80’s. Thank God I got to start playing with those guys in the late ’60’s and ’70’s.

DW: Tell me about the first harmonica you ever had.  How old were you?

KW: I was 17 years old. It was a Marine band that cost $1.75 at the time. I saw a guy playing a harp in school, and blues was big with a lot of white kids at the time.  So I thought, “Hey I can do that better than them,” so I got started. Once I got into my first bands, I got serious about my influences — like George “Harmonica” Smith and James Cotton. I was a singer first and the next thing you know I’m playing with Eddie Taylor, Johnny Shines, Fenton Robinson, Albert Collins, Lowell Fulson. It was blues history, both here in California and in Austin when I’d be playing at Antone’s with all those great players coming through.

DW:  How did moving to California change your musical career?

KW: I moved to California from Detroit when I was 9. California radio at that time changed my life forever. Especially living in Goleta.  Wow. Everything was on AM radio at the time, plus you had those offshore stations.  And between the two, you’d hear everything from Little Walter, Bobby Bland, Slim Harpo — all this blues.  And at the same time they were playing James Brown, Otis Redding, The Singing Nun, and “The Ballad Of The Green Berets” [laughter].  Then, after a while, the crossover stuff came in, and it was never the same.

DW: Besides your own incredible legacy as a solo artist and with The Fabulous Thunderbirds, you’ve played alongside some of the greatest pioneers of blues and r&b, like Eddie Taylor, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters,  and so many more. Who do you have the fondest memories of playing with?

KW:  Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers.  That was the peak of it. They were so respectful. At first it was “Yes sir, thank you sir,” but as much as I had to give them the respect they deserved, by the end of the day, you’ve got to write your own chapter in the book and blow. That’s what I did. No one can take that away from me.

DW: You’ve often said that Muddy Waters was your greatest influence and mentor. What it was like working and spending time with Muddy?

KW: As young as I was, wow! I was 23-24 and Muddy was making me stand up in front of the audience saying to everyone, “This guy’s the best thing since Little Walter.”  Even if it wasn’t true, I can never forget that.  But at the same time, you’ve got to keep your head on your shoulders. You can’t just dwell on a few influences or you’ll never grow.

DW: Did you ever get the chance to play with Howlin’ Wolf?   And if so, what was it like?

KW:  I did. I did a show with Wolf towards the end of his life. He was very ill at the time and taking nitroglycerin on stage. I met Hubert Sumlin there, and Albert Collins was there, too.  Hubert and Albert had each other in headlocks shouting, “Look who I found!”  That band was Hubert, S.P. Leary, Detroit Junior, and Eddie Shaw. There’s nothing like the Wolf.  He was the greatest voice in the blues ever. As much as I love Muddy and he was a mentor, Wolf is my favorite blues singer of all time.

DW: You refuse any comparisons with Little Walter. So how would you describe your harmonica style?

KW: Well, it’s about musical freedom. Walter certainly had that. I do whatever it takes to get an emotional response from an audience. Each influence takes you in a different direction. It’s more about feeling than being an acrobat who plays a zillion notes.  Big Walter was a huge influence on me, too. He offered me a spot in his band and said to me; “I won’t just teach you how to play, I’ll teach you how to be a man.” [Laughter] I was one of the last guys to get in with those legends.

DW: You played Little Walter’s music on the Grammy nominated soundtrack for the film Cadillac Records. How were you able capture his style so well while maintaining your own musical identity?

KW: It’s not really my thing to just come in and knock things out. I just tried to capture the energy. Luckily they let me wing it a little. There’s no way you’re going to capture the original spot on, because it’s all improvisation. Walter was improvising. Your own style will always be up front.  [Producer] Steve Jordan was very cool. I relish being nominated for a Grammy.

DW: Has jazz had an impact on your playing?

KW: Absolutely. Some of my influences were Gene Ammons, Illinois Jacquet, Wayne Shorter, Miles, Art Blakey, Charlie Christian, and Kenny Burrell, who’s still amazing today.  But I also love George Jones, Hank Williams, and Buck Owens. There’s that side to me as well.

DW: How would you describe your approach to making recordings?

KW: I always want to present a broad amount of influences, a taste of everything I can do, plus put down the harp and sing. From Bobby Bland to Memphis Slim and Otis Rush. That sound. For the blues stuff, if I don’t always record to mono, I mix to it. Nothing can replace that analog sound.

DW: You hear a lot of blues artists record digitally now.

KM: Yeah, it doesn’t sound right. You’ve got to have a pure sound.

DW: Do you think the troubled state of today’s economy has had an impact on the blues?

KW: It’s had an impact on everything. The local watering holes where you’d hear some real blues in have gone down.  And now you got these guys walking into clubs with Marshall stacks calling their music the blues and it’s just pollution. There’s this misrepresentation of what real blues is now. That stuff is not the blues. The purity is lost.

DW: Can you explain the difference between your work as front man, as co-founder of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and as a solo artist?

KW: My solo stuff is more traditional and with the Thunderbirds there’s a hybrid of soul, country, and blues. I don’t have to call off a song with either band, I can just start playing.  There’s never any dead air when I perform with either band, too; it’s always happening.

DW: There have always been many clichéd images of the blues harmonica player in popular media, from Hollywood celebs trying to play the harp in beer commercials wearing the shades and hat ala the Blues Brothers, to the hobo on the train, or prison inmate.  Do you think these images make it harder for the instrument to be taken seriously as a distinct musical craft on its own?

KW: Yeah, but If they’re doing it with respect and sincerity, it’s fine. Bruce Willis actually loves the music. Unless it’s a clown show, it doesn’t bother me. Even the Blues Brothers pointed out who wrote each song and talked about a band.  Even if you’re wearing a tutu up there, if it’s genuine, it will work.

DW: Your vocal style is as distinct as your harp playing. How has r&b and soul music inspired your voice over the years?

KW: I’m really a blues singer first but soul is what I grew up on. The Four Tops, The Temptations, it was all around me at the same time. I found that playing that r&b beat was important to the people.  Even James Cotton covered “Knock On Wood” and it sounded nothing like Eddie Floyd [Laughter].  That beat is so important to me.

DW: Do you play both diatonic and chromatic harps?  What the difference in approach?

KW: Oh yes. I’m not one of those chromatic over blowers, though, and I only play chromatic with my solo group and never with the Thunderbirds. I won’t mention any names, but you’ve got people playing the same chromatic runs over and over. I don’t do that.

DW: How do other instruments like saxes, trumpets, guitar, and vocals influence your phrasing on the harp?

KW: Anything that catches my ear. It’s always a melodic thing. There’s this T-Bone Walker lick I play on harp that T-Bone would always play on guitar. Vocalists only influence my singing, though I did learn to play melodies on harp by humming them first.

DW: Muddy Waters often said that one “Must pay the cost out there to play the blues,” or have survived “Real problems,” yet the music has even found its way onto American Idol. How do you think Muddy would feel about that?

KW: Really? Are you serious?

DW: Afraid so.

KW: (after a pause)  I think he’d be ok with it, actually. He’d say, “It’s about time the music got a little respect.”   Unless they’re doing it poorly.

DW: Are there any new harp players out there today who have caught your ear?

KW: Yeah, Vincent Bury with his band The Salt Shakers. A player from Montreal named Barath Rajakumar, and I like Steve Mariner a lot too.

DW: How would you like future generations to remember your music?

KW: I’d like them to consider me part of the players I grew up with, like Muddy Waters, Eddie Taylor, James Cotton.

DW: What do you have to say to those young music students out there who think the blues is easy to play?

KW: If the real thing was easy to play, there would be a lot more people doing it, really playing, and especially singing, the blues.

DW: Thanks for your time!

KW: Thank you; it’s been a pleasure.

Live Jazz: Bob Mintzer and Bob Sheppard at Vitello’s

May 27, 2010

Bob Mintzer and Bob Sheppard

By Tony Gieske

Bob Mintzer and Bob Sheppard did not bill their act as a battle of the tenors, although that is a venerable Los Angeles jazz tradition since the days when Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray walked Central Avenue.  Upstairs at Vitello’s Wednesday, the two living tenor saxophonists stayed in the present and did not duel or even trade fours.

Which was wise restraint, since their methodology drew on pretty much the same harmonic roots: standards and blues. We did not have a Coleman Hawkins vs. Lester Young. On the contrary, it wasn’t easy to tell which Bob was which.

If Mintzer started to blow boldly, Sheppard did too, and so forth. If you had your eyes shut, the only way you could tell who was playing was that Sheppard had a slightly heavier, slightly wider sound and was a little wilder, which wasn’t very wild.

Or maybe it was the other way around.

Alan Pasqua

On “Back Home in Indiana,” they created heart tugging echoes of Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano, or maybe it was the pianist and educator Alan Pasqua who was sneaking that stuff in. Of course, Miles Davis’ head on those  lovable changes — “Donna Lee” — was alluded to from time to time.

Despite his residence on the faculty at the University of Southern California, Pasqua got downer and dirtier, wilder and crazier, and more fun than anybody else except  maybe the welcome bassist Tony Dumas and the razor-sharp drummer Joe LaBarbera.

I’m not sure you would expect that from a guy who co-wrote the dense little theme for the CBS Evening News. Tonight, Pasqua stretched out and improvised musical stories with a beginning, a middle and an end, tickling the ear and amusing the soul for two or three choruses at a time.

Come to think of it, that was what Mintzer and Sheppard were doing next to him all night long.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  Read and see more of Tony Gieske’s jazz essays and photos at his personal web site tonyspage.com.

Jazz CD Reviews: Luis Munoz and Jon Gold

May 25, 2010

By Don Heckman

Luis Munoz

Invisible (Pelin Music)

Listening to this recording, experiencing its warm embrace, I can only marvel that Luis Muñoz does not have wider visibility.  The Costa Rican-born composer’s music begins with the subliminal qualities of his native roots, then blossoms into a creative expression that transcends boundaries reaching from jazz to classical to pop and beyond.

Invisible is an album in which atmosphere and emotion are central  Each work takes the listener into new territories of emotional experience.  Muñoz’s techniques are far reaching, choosing instrumental timbres in utterly unpredictable ways, searching for precisely the right combination of tones and textures to satisfy his creative goals.

In the opening “Adam’s Dream,” melody is doubled, unpredictably, by bass and trumpet.  “Luz del Sur” simmers with a sub-divided 12/4 rhythm over which Jonathan Dane’s Miles Davis-inflected trumpet brings the counterpoint of urban sophistication to the roots qualities of John Nathan’s marimba.

David Binney’s adventurous alto saxophone takes center stage in “Sobre Vivencia,” at first over stirring, metrically shifting rhythms, then blending with the infectious rhythms of dancing percussion.  The mood changes unexpectedly with the arrival of the spiritual phrases of Muñoz’s soulful “Hymn” – “Blessed are the ones who surrender to Love/For they’ll inherit the Kingdom of Heaven” — sung beautifully by Lois Mahalia.

“De Alma Y Sombra” begins with the feeling of a Bach chorale before evolving into a showcase for a lovely solo from pianist George Friedenthal, and “Esperanza” adds a quiet pastoral quality via a duet between bassist Tom Etchart and guitarist Chris Judge.  A pair of vibrant pieces, “Malabarista” and “Manantial” bring more divergent sounds, the former with an upbeat trumpet and tenor melody suggesting the sound of the Jazz Messengers rambling over layered Latin jazz rhythms, the latter with Ron Kalina’s chromatic harmonica and a collection of rich vocal harmonies supporting Teka Pendiriche’s solo voice.

The extraordinary program ends with “Tango y Sangre de la Media Noche,” a long, affecting journey led by Laura Hackstein’s dramatic violin, enhanced by the tender backing of Muñoz’s gentle piano touches.

It’s a fitting climax to a program that never fails to entice one’s attention.  But with the orientation of today’s music world, Invisible may be an unfortunately prophetic title, reflecting how much attention the album could receive, given the myopia of most major media toward new creative ideas.  If so, that will be a shame.  Muñoz is a talent who should be far more widely heard.

Jon Gold

Brazil Confidential (Zoho)

The first minutes of “Alem Do Azul,” the first of twelve original compositions by pianist Jon Gold, make it clear that this is an album that demands attention.  The combination of floating rhythmic undercurrents from Gold’s seven piece ensemble, blended with soaring flute work from Jorg Continentino, announce that a uniquely fascinating mixture of Brazil and jazz is in the works.

But that’s just the start.  As the tracks unfold, the momentum reaches in one direction, then another.  “Funky Jabour” showcases saxophonists Anat Cohen and Bryan Murray over a driving rhythmic groove.  “Teresinha” dips into bossa nova, followed by even more bossa in Tatiana Parra’s singing on “Confissao,” and Leah Siegel’s intimate, wordless vocals on “”Paraty” and “Parazen” (with guitarist “Scottinho” Anderson leading the way).

Other tunes further display Gold’s compositional vitality: the surging melodies of “Carioca Da Clara,” the quirky, off-beat sounds and rhythms of “Vitamin B,” and the Brazilian bebop of “Parafuso A Menos” (sparked by Cohen’s driving clarinet). Add to that the balladry of  “Singela” (featuring Katie Scheel’s English horn) and the emotional twists and turns of the suite-like “Rapadura,” topped off with Gold’s lyrical re-imagining of Janacek’s Suite No. 4.

It’s fascinating, all of it – compelling because it presents a musical imagination that has been inspired by the culture of Brazil without superficially attempting to imitate it.  And that’s a true rarity.


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