Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Bebop: Art Farmer’s “Early Art” (Prestige)

September 28, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

Romance is deadly. No matter how it’s glamorized in books, poems, songs, plays, or movies, it’s a dangerous state of being. It’s chaos driven by pure impulsivity without measuring the consequences of what waits for you on the other side of it all. For a musician it means exposing your vulnerabilities for all to witness. Which is risky. You’re left wide open with nothing to shield you from those who may want to use your weaknesses against you.

In the midst of the wild machismo-laden bravado that initially made up the jazz world, artists like Lester Young and Miles Davis went to those places fearlessly. They made it look and sound so easy, but it was far from simplistic. Once that box is opened, it’s hard to close it, even when it becomes overbearing.

Art Farmer

Trumpeter Art Farmer too had the skill and courage to plunge into that dark abyss with wild abandon with his sweet, luscious tone and often minimalist approach to phrasing. Farmer could swing with a fast and virtuosic flurry of notes, but he chose those moments carefully, much like Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham. That is the mark of a true master. Always know which aspects of your abilities to expose at precisely the right moments.

Art Farmer recorded two sessions for Prestige Records in 1954; the first took place on January 20th, featuring Sonny Rollins, tenor saxophone, Horace Silver, piano, Percy Heath, bass, and Kenny Clarke on drums. The second session, from November 9th, consists of Farmer joined by his twin brother Addison Farmer on bass, Wynton Kelly, piano, and Herbie Lovelle on drums. The two sessions became the aptly titled Early Art album, Farmer’s second recording as a band leader.

The kind of romance experienced when listening to this album goes much deeper than one pining away for unrequited or lost love, or being in the maddening throes of a passionate courtship or tryst. On up-tempo compositions like “Soft Shoe,” Horace Silver’s “Confab In Tempo” and “Wisteria,” you get the distinct impression that Farmer, Rollins, Silver, Heath, and Clarke are romanticizing the end of the bebop era in its purist form. The harmonic, melodic and rhythmic structure of these pieces are in the same vein as what Bird & Diz, Fats Navarro and Tadd Dameron, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Grey and a young Miles Davis were doing in the mid to late ‘40s. “Wisteria” sounds like a direct tribute to Fats Navarro who died less than four years prior to this recording.

By 1954, pure bebop, the way it was done in its earlier years, was on its way out. By the end of that decade, many of the era’s finest practitioners would be forced into a hand clapping, foot tapping “soul-jazz” bag of accessible and easily marketed clichés. Those wonderfully complex and frenetic early chord progressions would soon be replaced by something easier to swallow and more danceable to jazz tourists. The music on this album is a sadly romantic and final bugle call for all of the beauty, virtuosity, socio-political might, and musical rebellion of that era.

Sonny Rollins plays a lot like Bird here. Rollins was already one of the most phenomenal soloists to emerge from the late ‘40s and would just get greater all the time. Sonny picks up on a composition’s theme and adds broad brush strokes that embellish it from every corner. Farmer swings up-tempo, harkening back to the glory days of Minton’s Playhouse and 52nd Street in New York when it was really jumping. Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke were the greatest rhythm section of 1954 and they are playing with all of their might here; dangerously, as if their lives depended on it.

Then you have the other side of romance, which is more universal and more dangerous. “I’ll Take Romance” and “I’ll Walk Alone” are chilling. This is poetry. No words are needed. That frightening vulnerability and cold isolation runs strong throughout these ballads, often too strong at times. One has to be in the proper mind set for ballads this powerful.

Bill Evans1966_2

Farmer’s slow, desperate and breathy phrasing reminds me of Billie Holiday when “Lady Day” became acutely aware of her mortality as it bore down on her like a freight train. Wynton Kelly’s wonderfully twisted harmonic capabilities creates an even darker and menacing landscape on “Autumn Nocturne” and “Alone Together” from the second session. Addison Farmer’s bass lines ride perfectly beneath the surface, as does Herbie Lovelle’s subtle yet colorful drumming. This is the most spine tingling rendition of “alone Together” I can think of.
“Gone With The Wind” is played up-tempo. Farmer swings mercilessly, demonstrating his incredible sense of dynamics. That sweetly elegant yet burning swing of Art Farmer is just unrelenting.

The album concludes with “Pre Amp” which is a precursor to Miles Davis’ “Blues By Five.” The head sounds almost identical. The delicate interplay between Farmer and Kelly is incredible. The band is locked in tight. Farmer and Kelly solo briefly but return to the stated melody line before ending the number abruptly. This sounds like a quick impromptu warm up, but still every note Farmer plays is perfect.

Art Farmer’s Early Art deals with love, longing, romance, and sadness. And you feel every bit of danger and mastery that comes with the ability to express those emotions so openly in that wonderful life giving art form called jazz.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

Keeping the GAS (Great American Songbook) Flame Burning: “Over the Rainbow”

September 26, 2015
Rpger Crane Song Scout

Rpger Crane Song Scout

By Roger Crane

What is left to say about the lovely and iconic “Over the Rainbow?” Well, some basics. The music is by Harold Arlen and the lyric by E. Y. “Yip” Harburg. As many of you know, it was written for and featured in the 1939 Judy Garland movie The Wizard of Oz. The song became Garland’s piece de resistance and has, since its introduction, been recorded by just about everybody (a few examples below).

By the way, 1939 was a spectacular year for well-written songs. Just to cite a small handful, in addition to “Over the Rainbow,” “All the Things You Are,” “Darn That Dream,” “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me,” “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” “I Thought About You,” “Day In-Day Out,” and so many more were published in that year. None of these songs has in them a clichéd note.

Here is something maybe you did not know. The original composer assigned to write the songs for The Wizard of Oz was Jerome Kern. But he suffered a mild stroke and was unable to accept the assignment, So, Harold Arlen accepted the task. Then, the deal to have Shirley Temple play the leading role of Dorothy Gale fell through. Instead the part went to an unknown actress named Judy Garland who, at age 16, was asked to play a 12-year old. Interestingly, Frank Baum’s Oz books never mention a rainbow but the lyricist Harburg thought that a little girl in barren monotone Kansas would find color in her life only by looking at a rainbow.

Surprisingly, initially few liked the centerpiece big ballad “Over the Rainbow.” ”In fact, the producers hated the song so much that they cut it out of the movie not once, but three times. Studio head Louis B. Mayer griped that it slowed down the film. They especially didn’t like that delightful opening octave leap “Some-WHERE.” Only Arthur Freed, the associate producer (and himself a songwriter), persuaded the powers-that-be to leave the song in the final cut.

Of course, all else is history. The young Judy and the public loved “Over the Rainbow” and it won the Academy Award for Best Song of 1939 and has since attained the rare status of a beloved American classic. It was ranked number one on the “Songs of the Century” list compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America. The American Film Institute named it the greatest movie song of all time.

Although featured in a young person’s movie, the song easily made the transition to the dance halls and the swing bands of the era. In fact, before the end of 1939, the song had entered the repertoires of Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. Miller’s version, which was recorded before the film was released, was a number one hit for his band. “Over the Rainbow” spent six weeks as the number one hit on the radio show Your Hit Parade. “Over the Rainbow” has been featured in several films besides The Wizard of Oz. James Stewart (yes, THAT James Stewart) sang it in the 1940 The Philadelphia Story. Eileen Farrell dubbed it for Eleanor Parker in the 1955 film Interrupted Melody and Elizabeth Hartman hummed it in the 1965 A Patch of Blue.

Some Recordings

Since its initial appearance,”Over the Rainbow” has never totally fallen out of favor among jazz players nor among vocalists who focus on the GAS repertoire.
1) Judy has to be included, of course. Here she is in 1939 with Victor Young and his orchestra. In 1981 this record was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

2) The under-valued altoist Art Pepper recorded it many times. This version is from a 1978 Galaxy session. That is Stanley Cowell, piano, Roy Haynes, drums and Cecil McBee, bass.

3) Even the great Ray Charles can find something new to add to the maleable melody. Here is ”the genius” in 1963 with an arrangement by Marty Paich.

4) Unfortunately, Eva Cassidy died at only 33 (of cancer) before she became a star She was the rarest of the rare – a truly genre-free vocalist – rock, pop, gospel, jazz, folk. Eva just sang and to heck with labels. Her impassioned 5-minute version became a posthumous hit (especially in England) in 1992.

5)Dave Brubeck has noted that his 1952 Storyville performance of “Over the Rainbow” is one of his favorites among his own recordings. Those final mournful but lovely notes of course are by Brubeck’s right-hand man, saxophonist Paul Desmond.

Many of the best GAS singers past and present have recorded “Over the Rainbow,” including Joe Williams (with Sweets Edison) from their live 1961 recording. Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan as well as Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford, Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day and even Willie Nelson have recorded this evergreen.

You jazz fans might wish to also take a listen to Sonny Rollins recordings of “Valse Hot” which is a piece that he wrote based on Arlen’s “Over the Rainbows” chord changes (but with a changed meter) This song was also a 1953 virtuoso keyboard show piece for the magnificent Art Tatum. Another pianist, Keith Jarrett recorded an achingly beautiful version for his 1964 Live in Tokyo album

Enjoy. As always, comments welcomed.
Roger, the Intrepid Song Scout

Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Hard-Bop: Jackie McLean — “Jackie’s Bag” (Blue Note)

September 24, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

When I think of Jackie McLean; the word modern comes to mind. Jackie was always beyond hip. His slightly pitchy alto sax tone, daring compositions, and that unrelenting energy (quite often driven by the blues) made him one of the most original artists to stem from the bebop era.

His earliest recordings with Miles Davis and Charles Mingus show off a young and cocky McLean who sounds as excited as a kid in a candy store to be playing with these giants. But he took risks even then. He was trying to escape the looming shadow of Charlie Parker’s influence, both personally and musically. He was one of the first post-Parker alto players to find his own distinct style during a time when players of all instruments were copying Bird’s every lick.

McLean produced some of the most brilliant and exhilarating albums in the entire history of Blue Note Records.

One of his greatest achievements with Blue Note was Jackie’s Bag; which consists of two separate recording sessions. The first dates from January 18, 1959; it features McLean joined by Donald Byrd, trumpet, Sonny Clark, piano, Paul Chambers, bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. On the second session from September 1, 1960, McLean is accompanied by Tina Brooks, tenor saxophone, Blue Mitchell, trumpet, Kenny Drew, piano, Paul Chambers, bass, and Art Taylor on drums.

Jackie McLean gestures with horn

Jackie McLean

On “Quadrangle,” “Blues Inn” and “Fidel” from the first session, Mclean and the band sound as if they’re walking a very thin and tight rope between hard-bop and the avant-garde. And it sounds like they could land on either side of that rope at any moment. McLean’s alto lines are bold and swinging. His sense of spacing and creating tensions between each phrase adds a powerful energy that is infectious to all of the other band members. McLean would play slightly behind the beat the way Dexter Gordon did on the tenor sax, or in the style of a truly great blues singer.

At one point, Donald Byrd takes the lead and plays some truly soulful and imaginative trumpet solos. Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones come off more aggressively than usual, but the rhythms they lay down fit the mood of each composition perfectly. Everyone is playing above and beyond their comfort zones and pushing the music to new heights. I could write an entire piece just on Philly Joe’s incredible polyrhythmic drumming on “Fidel” alone. And let’s not forget Sonny Clark; one of the tightest and most inventive piano accompanists of that entire era. On this session, Clark’s accents around Philly Joe Jones’ drumming are syncopated, sparse, and phenomenal on every level.

Jackie McLean

On the second session; the band swings just as hard. Art Taylor’s drumming is more subtle and melodic than that of Philly Joe Jones’. Kenny Drew’s playing is more subdued than what Sonny Clark laid down on the first session but the music is equally as engaging and energetic. Blue Mitchell’s trumpet lines on “Appointment In Ghana” and “A Ballad For Doll” are both thematic and lyrical. Tina Brooks’ tenor work swings harder than life itself. “Isle Of Java,” “Melonae’s Dance,” “Medina” and “Street Dancer” (written by Brooks) feature some of Brooks’ most stellar tenor work of his tragically short career.

McLean’s playing is both humorous and wildly adventurous. The melody lines on these compositions are unique, modern, and at times very funky. Nothing sounds like the music produced on this album.

Jackie McLean: Jackie’s Bag is the perfect example of what made Jackie McLean one of the most important voices in the history of post war jazz. The album also demonstrates why McLean’s modernist approach to composing and improvising are still extremely influential to jazz musicians of today. McLean’s wonderful audaciousness, wit, and soul make this album a musical journey to experience again and again. Do not go without this masterpiece.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

CD Review: Denise Donatelli’s “Find A Heart” (Savant)

September 22, 2015


Brian Arsenalt

Brian Arsenalt

By Brian Arsenault

The first cut, “Big Noise, New York” storms in like a Saturday night in Manhattan and I go, “Great! powerhouse jazz served smoking.” But that’s not the whole of Denise Donatelli’s Find a Heart, not by a long shot.

New York brassiness is followed by Paris Rain so soft, soft as a touch, no, not simply a touch, a caress. Touch, skin on skin, has a lot to do with this album but so does contrast.

The poet turned essayist Donald Hall writes that “Contradiction is the cellular structure of life.” On this album it also seems the cellular structure of music.

Back and forth we go from bold jazz to sly romance. There’s yearning despite skepticism of the likely outcome. Lovers are beckoned and pushed away, longed for and scorned.

The music equally contrasting. Tempo flares up then ripples softly.

The album soars on the title track, Leonardo Amuedo’s slashing guitar chasing Denise’s vocal of passion — “make it work by touching skin.” Then the same Amuedo on the very next track providing solo soft and sensual acoustic support for her heartachingly sung “Not Like This.” Actually, exactly like that.

The songs on this album by a variety of composers and lyricists seem a conversation with each other, a back and forth of style and sensibility. One hesitates to use the word sophisticated since it’s rather loaded and off putting for some. But take it as sophisticated in the sense of artistically mature, relationships for grownups, William Holden films don’t ya know.

Denise’s voice is a polished instrument. It (she) moves up and down scales, octaves, emotions with seeming ease, the mark of true artistry. It never seemed like Sinatra was working at it, did it.

Geoffrey Keezer, who Denise calls her musical partner, gets credit as the album’s producer and arranger but you’ll probably be most grateful for his piano work all over the album. And speaking of all over, Marvin “Smutty” Smith who was the Tonight Show drummer through most of Jay Leno’s tenure, dazzles often especially on the album’s up tempo jazz tunes such as the title song. Master bassist Carlitos Del Puerto is the other half of the stellar rhythm section.

Terrific guests add depth and color. Superb trumpeter Chris Botti adds just the right touch on “Practical Arrangement,” making you wish he could have stayed longer at the studio. And cellist Giovanna Clayton adds resonance wonderfully here and there. Isn’t it great that the cello has been increasingly freed from string quartet only.

If I haven’t given enough attention to individual songs in this review — “Troubled Child.” “In This Moment” and “Practical Arrangement” should and probably will become “standards,” sung by many others and deservedly so — it’s because the album hangs together so well as a complete piece.

Concept album is too trite a phrase to describe Find A Heart, but twenty-first century songbook perhaps isn’t. (I might have stolen that insight from Neil Tesser’s liner notes but so what, he had it right.)

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On Thursday, September 24, Denise Donatelli will celebrate the release of Find A Heart  with a gala performance and party at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood. (323) 466-2210.

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

CD Review: Carol Welsman’s “Alone Together”

September 17, 2015
Brian Arsenalt

Brian Arsenalt

by Brian Arsenault

As a cool September breeze pushes the mists of summer down the bay, ushering in a new season, Carol Welsman’s Alone Together — to be released Friday, Sept. 18 — freshens some old songs you know and some you may not have ever heard. And how good is that?

Good enough that Sammy Cahn is featured twice, opening the album with the classic “Day By Day,” with Wallace Roney’s trumpet floating under and around Carol’s vocal, and later with “You Taught My Heart to Sing,” music by McCoy Tyner. Carol would win on great taste if nothing else.

"Alone Together"But there’s a lot else. Throughout Carol sings lead with both her vocal crystal clarity and her interwoven piano work. On another classic, “It Might as Well by Spring,” her stylish singing and piano share a love affair with a song. Balanced by the delicate strength of Jay Azzolina’s guitar solo.

Then here comes a song I didn’t know, “Sand in My Shoes,” a timely ode to Havana’s lure. Yeah, I don’t like the Castros but I’d sure like to see what’s left of Hemingway’s Boat.

The title song has an a cappella intro which makes me wonder how terrific it would be if she sang the whole song that way but, hey, who could object to her piano here with the terrific rhythm section of Rufus Reid on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. They’re good everywhere on the album.

Everything’s good here. Wallace Roney’s trumpet solo on “Disappointed” is even better than his solo on  “My Ship.”

“My Ship” is my favorite cut on the album, if anyone wants to know. I know. I have a weakness for Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin but we all have our prejudices. Carol’s control of Weill’s so yearning self doubting lyrics is right on point. Pinpoint control in all places is one of the most notable qualities of her singing and piano playing throughout the album.

It’s a great strength but as an old merchant I knew once said: “What makes you strong can be your weakness sometimes.” The whole album seems so controlled, so measured, so skillfully managed, that I sometimes wish for a ragged edge, a few moments of abandon, a little feeling of improvisation.

This is essentially a jazz album after all.

Perhaps it’s Carol’s classical background that requires her to measure each note, each chord, each turn of phrase. European jazz often has that feel and just once in a while wouldn’t you like the conductor to leave the stage and just let the guys play?

But her strength is precise playing, sound arrangements, perfect song selection and, in the end, poignant emotion.

“Killing Time” brings an absolutely aching conclusion to the album. If you could hear tears, you would hear them in the spaces between the notes.

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On Sunday night, September 20, Carol Welsman will celebrate the release of Alone Together  with a gala performance and party at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood. (323) 466-2210.

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

Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Bop: Clifford Jordan & John Gilmore “Blowing In From Chicago” (Blue Note)

September 13, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

There’s nothing quite like a gritty Chicago tenor saxophone battle, especially during the post war hard-bop era. By the mid ‘50s, Players like Johnny Griffin, Gene Ammons, Von Freeman, and John Neely were blowing at each other with this insatiable hypo-manic bop that would make your head spin.

What these men played could be very sweet and seductive one moment and then turn around and cut you like an axe the next. Clifford Jordan was a part of this school of rough edged Chicago tenor players before moving to New York City in 1957.

Both Ammons and Griffin would record tenor stand-offs with players from outside of Chicago like Hank Mobley, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, and Dexter Gordon.

The “Chi-Town” tenor cutting matches were like musical snapshots of the harshness of the city from which they blossomed. With that being said, it’s not surprising that Clifford Jordan’s very first session date as a band leader for Blue Note Records in 1957 — Cliff Jordan & John Gilmore: Blowing In From Chicago — would be a take-no-prisoners duel with another of the city’s fearlessly ambitious tenor-man — the incomparable and illusive John Gilmore.

John Gilmore

John Gilmore

Gilmore’s relentless dedication to Sun Ra’s “subversive” orbit from 1953 through Ra’s death in 1993 made him a mysterious figure to the bop purists and jazz press. However, throughout the ’60s, Gilmore would occasionally venture from Ra’s Arkestra to make some exceptional records with artists like Freddie Hubbard, Paul Bley, McCoy Tyner, Art Blakey, Andrew Hill, and Pete La Roca. Gilmore strongly viewed Sun Ra’s approach to music as being the harmonic continuation of the bebop started by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk.

His first project away from Ra was this tenor blowing session with Clifford Jordan on March 13, 1957, featuring Horace Silver on piano, Curly Russell on bass, and Art Blakey on drums. This resulted in the phenomenal Blowing In From Chicago album.

The first track on the album is “Status Quo” which has the same changes to it as “There Will Never Be Another You.” The harmonies created between Jordan and Gilmore on the song’s head are beautiful in that traditional bebop form. After that, the competition begins and rises to a near boiling point.



When I hear Jordan and Gilmore swapping solos, I envision two poisonous vipers coiled in a bloody fight to the death. That’s how hard burning every tenor line is played on this record. And it gets more aggressive throughout the album. On the Latin-tinged blues number “Bo-Till”, Gilmore’s harmonically complex, angular tenor lines give Jordan a run for his money. There’s also an agility and adventurousness to Gilmore’s style whereas Jordan plays more traditionally, at times sounding like Dexter Gordon but without Gordon’s rich vibrato. Both men are swinging beyond belief here.

“Blue Lights” and “Evil Eye” are sly, mid-tempo minor key blues-bop numbers that allow wider solo space for Jordan, Gilmore, and the entire band. Gilmore takes the first solo. It’s immediately apparent how influential Gilmore was on John Coltrane, especially during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Coltrane even took lessons from Gilmore during this period in New York and was forever transformed. Gilmore plays mostly in the altissimo register of his horn while Jordan plays in the middle. Despite the competitive feel of these pieces, the two men complement each other’s styles beautifully.

The version of Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce” (played at twice the tempo of the original) is a true head cutter. That one of a kind Blakey beat is unabashedly hard. Russell and Silver are right there with him, pushing it even harder and adding texture. These men had already performed and recorded many times together up until this time and knew each other’s styles instinctively. Blakey, Silver, and Russell were featured together on the infamous Art Blakey: A Night At Birdland Vol.1 and Vol.2 albums in 1954 on Blue Note with Clifford Brown and Lou Donaldson. Their presence here is very similar, which is high praise.

Gilmore plays Jordan’s style back at him when it’s his turn to cook on this Bird classic, which is incredible. This is a more conservative setting for Gilmore, but he demonstrates his diversity and his masterful knowledge of the bebop language. Gilmore even quotes a few of Bird’s alto phrases from “Cool Blues” and “Klaunstance” while Horace Silver quotes Thelonious Monk’s “52nd Street Theme” and “Rhythm-A-Ning.”

Horace Silver’s “Everywhere” and “Let It Stand” have a jubilance to them that reminds me of the tenor matches between Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. The mood is slightly cooler than on the previous tracks but equally as powerful. Jordan and Gilmore are laying back and grooving with love and soul. Blakey’s clean swinging hi-hat rides along with Russell’s steady walking bass lines, keeping everything perfect. Horace Silver’s lively piano solos are beautifully syncopated and harmonically brilliant.

Cliff Jordan & John Gilmore: Blowing In From Chicago is the perfect example of the power and bliss of a true late ‘50s Chicago style tenor saxophone battle. And it is a glimpse into the future direction of the instrument by two masterfully adventurous stylists of that era. It’s hard to find anything that swings as hard as this.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


New CD Review: Luis Muňoz “VOZ” (Pelin Music)

September 11, 2015
Devon "Doc" Wendell

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

Costa Rican composer and percussionist Luis Muňoz is one of the most vibrant and dedicated Latin jazz artists on the scene today. His new album VOZ is an obvious labor of love which fuses Brazilian jazz, and “crossover” pop. But there’s a refreshing purity about VOZ. Muňoz is joined by special guests: Claudia Acuňa, Magos Herrera, and Téka on vocals.

Magos Herrera

Magos Herrera

“Preludio Y Fin” is a beautiful jazz ballad. Magos Herrera’s delicate and mournful vocal phrasing is complimented by Adam Asarnow’s thoughtful and masterful piano accompaniment. Jonathan Dane’s trumpet style here is reminiscent of Miles Davis’ finest ballad recordings of the late 1950s. Muňoz’s brush work on the drums is subtle and absolutely superb. A stunning piece of music.

“Manantial” features the incomparable Téka, one of the most original and powerful vocalist/guitarists to come out of Brazil in many years. She is featured on both lead and backing vocals. Her breathy, sensual vocals glide beautifully atop of Ron Kalina’s chromatic harmonica lines. No one sounds like Téka. Muňoz’s sensitive drumming and colorful texturing on the Fender Rhodes piano adds depth and complexity to this “crossover” pop composition.



“Argentina” was written by Nicaraguan lyricist Luis Enrique.
Jonathan Dane’s Flugelhorn is melodically and harmonically complex. Magos Herrera’s vocals are poignant and plaintive. Brendan Statom’s acoustic bass lines weave in and out of the melody like a wonderful dream.

Luis Munoz

Luis Munoz

Muňoz plays it cool, maintaining a mostly subordinate role in the overall band sound. This is a haunting piece of music but not as darkly stunning as the instrumental “Journey Into Saint Augustine.” Daniel Zimmerman’s acoustic guitar dances around Jonathan Dane’s muted flugelhorn phrasing, while Brendan Statom’s bass lines keep it all together. A lovely musical dance among three amazing musicians.

“Pasiόn” was written by the great Panamanian lyricist Romulo Castro. No one can turn a phrase like Téka and this composition is further proof of her amazing skills. Téka’s longtime guitarist Chris Judge accompanies her every nuance perfectly. Ron Calina’s harmonica lines almost sound like a great alto-sax player.

Trumpeter Jonathan Dane is one of the brightest stars on this album. His tone echoes Freddie Hubbard’s on “Testamento/Mas Alla” and Magos Herrera’s lead vocals are subdued, controlled, and full of melancholy.

Most of the album has a sad and mournful feel to it. “Amarilis” will bring tears to your eyes. It’s just a quartet performance consisting of Jonathan Dane, trumpet, Luis Muňoz, melodica, Brendan Statom, bass, and Daniel Zimmerman, on acoustic guitar. Muňoz’s melodica playing is perfectly in tune (a rarity for this instrument) and tasteful.

Claudia Acuna

Claudia Acuna

Téka’s rich vibrato and melodic phrasing on “Quisiera” (co-written by Jaime Gamboa) is the highlight of the entire album. Téka shares the lead vocal spot with Claudia Acuňa. Jonathan Dame’s trumpet follows every breathtaking twist and turn of the vocals with taste and purpose. Chris Judge’s guitar accompaniment is sweet and thematic.

The album closes with “Amanecer Luminoso”, written by Costa Rican poet Osvaldo Sauma. This is a sweet but stark lullaby, a piano-vocal duo. Magos Herrera’s tender vocals are accompanied by some very subtle piano comping by Adam Asarmow.

Luis Muňos’ VOZ is a beautifully pure album of some romantically dark and sincere Latin jazz at its best. Muňoz plays more of a background role, letting fantastic artists like Teka, Claudia Acuňa, and Magos Herrera shine on this carefully crafted masterpiece.

Voz will be released on Sept. 15.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


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