Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Vividly Symphonic, Epic Big Band Album and a Chinatown Gig From Pianist Manuel Valera

Pianist Manuel Valera has been a reliably tuneful fixture on the New York jazz stage, best known for his monthly residency with his New Cuban Express at Terraza 7, which ran for years until live music was criminalized here in 2020. His latest big band album, Distancia, counts as one of the millions which would have been released sometime that year if we all hadn’t been rudely interrupted. The good news is that he managed to finish it – that fall, restrictions be damned – and it’s streaming at Spotify. Valera and his New Cuban Express are at the Django on Jan 10 at 7 PM; cover is $25. For those who want to make a whole night of it, the 10:30 PM act, Sonido Costeno, play fiery guitar-fueled salsa dura and are also a lot of fun.

Like a lot of his countrymen, Valera has both a lyrical neoromantic side and a love for slinky beats, and his arrangements are nothing short of symphonic. Pretty much everything here is past ten minutes or close to it. He opens the record with Expectativas, the percussion answering the trombones to set up a catchy modal piano vamp and some cleverly lush exchanges by massed brass. Soprano saxophonist Charles Pillow ranges from allusive chromatics to a wicked downward spiral in a tantalizingly brief solo; trumpeter Brian Pareschi takes his time choosing his spots, then backing away for a light-fingered Samuel Torres conga solo artfully echoed by drummer Jimmy Macbride with a flick of his cymbals. It sets the stage for the rest of this absolutely brilliant, consistently gorgeous album.

The riffage in the interplay among the brass in the second number, Gemini, is a lot punchier, Valera hinting at a rhythmic shift before the group backs off for a cheery, spaciously paced Pareschi solo matched by baritone saxophonist Andrew Gutauskas. Valera keeps the pulse going with an incisive, rhythmic solo as Macbride shadows him; the band bring the tune full circle, guitarist Alex Goodman tantalizing with his pensive solo out.

Camila Meza’s signature lustrous vocalese mingles within catchy, fugal brass to introduce From Afar, the group developing a slow, orchestral sway, dipping to a spare, somewhat wistful trumpet solo. The way Valera sneaks Meza and the band back up into the mix is as artful as it is unselfconsciously gorgeous. It ends unresolved.

The tradeoffs are faster and lighter in Pathways: it’s a goodnatured joust, up to a meticulously articulated Valera break and a flurrying Michael Thomas alto sax solo. Meza carries the big riff through a fleeting piano/alto conversation. The horns give way to a moody moment as From the Ashes grows into a nimbly orchestrated salsa tune, but without the usual rumble on the low end. Trombonist Matt Macdonald flickers allusively; Valera tumbles and ripples, Macbride firing off a shower of cymbals. Pillow punches in as the forward drive grows funkier; the bandleader’s sudden turn toward the shadows will grab you by surprise. Lots of that on this record.

Impressionistic Romance is intriguingly allusive and tinged with the High Romantic, fueled by Valera’s steady cascades, a hint of a grim march and Bernard Herrmann. Echo effects move into the center as the low brass simmers and punches, Valera following a determined, unresolved tangent that the horns bring back to an uneasy landing.

Valera stays in brooding mode to open the album’s title track, Pillow pushing the group toward a warmer morning theme, then taking a more pensive break. Valera teams up with singer Bogna Kicinska’s resonant vocalese to build a glistening nocturnal tableau on the way out. He winds up the album where he started with the steady counterpoint and implied, vampy salsa groove of Remembere. It’s more straight-up big band jazz than it is traditionally Cuban; whatever the case, this is one of the most delicious big band albums of recent months.

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January 7, 2023 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inspiration and Rapture From Harpist Edmar Castaneda in a Sonically Challenging Downtown Space

At his concert today at St. Paul’s Chapel downtown, harpist Edmar Castaneda told the small crowd huddled together in the wintry chill under the balcony organ that he was sick of playing “For computers.” The audience seconded that observation and roared their approval when he’d fire off sparkling cascades, playing brisk melody lines against supple basslines, bending the body of his instrument for a wah-wah effect, or slamming the strings at the end of a song like the inside of a piano to cap off a big coda. But lockdown-era cabin fever aside, at this show Castaneda felt the room’s nature reverb and focused more on rapture and resonance than the pyrotechnics he’s best known for.

His wife, singer Andrea Tierra, marveled at how the Financial District had revitalized itself in the years since she’d walked around the neighborhood during the somber, acrid aftermath of 9/11. “”We always have to fight…New York always has to keep coming back, I think this is a very important message in this part of the city,” she emphasized.

Airing out her understatedly powerful, expressive alto voice, she channeled a distant angst as her husband rose from a suspenseful pulsing, verdant intro to a slow, spiky, bolero-tinged ballad, possibly titled Me Voy Llorando. It was a prime example of the individualistic blend of latin jazz and nueva cancion he’s made a name for himself with – and has played with his wife, whom he instantly fell in love with at a jam session in Queens eighteen years ago.

Tierra introduced a more spare, dancing tune, Cancion Con Todos, as a message of unity for all the people of the Americas, giving voice to citizens struggling for peace, The group – which also included incisive soprano saxophonist Shlomi Cohen and a terse, purposeful drummer – took the song bouncing, doublespeed, with an insistent solo out.

Castaneda played solo on Hecho (“Acts,” a Biblical reference), bringing the atmosphere up from guarded hope to starrier, more rhythmic terrain and a graceful, reflective ending. From there, he brought the rhythm section back to close the set with a wildly flurrying, merengue-flavored tune, Fresh Water, bristling with modal intensity over staggered, strutting syncopation.

November 29, 2022 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mafalda Minnozzi Reinvents Classic Italian Film Music on Her New Album

Singer Mafalda Minnozzi‘s career spans the worlds of jazz, tropicalia and Mediterranean balladry. Her new album Cinema City: Jazz Scenes From Italian Film – streaming at Bandcamp – is a perfect vehicle for her since the collection underscores the close affinity between Italian film music from the 50s onward, and bossa nova. With her expressive high soprano, Minnozzi brings a cinematic swath of emotions to life: she also has a puckish sense of humor. Although she sings most of these tracks in the original Italian, she also shows off a strong command of English.

Skip the opening number, a playful and coyly amusing take of La Dolce Vita ruined by a break for whistling. Track two, Loss of Love is an aptly muted, poignant, steady theme lowlit by Tiago Costa’s piano and Paul Ricci’s guitar over bassist Sidiel Vieira and drummer Ricardo Mosca’s slow, sotto-voce swing.

Minnozzi and the band bring a gentle, velvety approach to the tiptoeing bossa Metti una Cera a Cena. Special guest Dave Liebman’s soprano sax spirals joyously in Nino Rota’s Cinema Paradiso love theme over glittering piano clusters and a tight triplet groove.

Art Hirahara takes a rare turn on organ, flickering throughout a hazy, delicately swinging reinvention of the thinly veiled druggy cha-cha Amapola. The pensive, tango-inflected Amici Mei title theme is a feature for Graham Haynes, who takes an understatedly gritty turn on flugelhorn.

Hirahara returns for a bittersweetly shuffling take of Anonino Veneziano and then a more immersive, expansive version of Bruno Martino’s E La Chiamano Estate, a prime example of the Italian/Brazilian connection.

Luca Aquino guests on flugelhorn, intertwining with Ricci’s intricate picking in a raptly emotive performance of Nella Fantasia, which has special resonance for Minnozzi considering that it was her wedding song. Lingering guitar over flickering organ and a steady backbeat make Cappuntamento (from the film A Beiro do Caminho) one of the album’s most memorable moments.

She rescues Arrivederci Roma from Rat Pack cheesiness, imbuing it with gravitas but also defiant energy, grounded by trombonist Jorginho Neto. Se, from the Cinema Paradiso soundtrack, gets a spare, tender interpretation, followed by a soaring, organ-and-vocalese-fueled Deborah’s Theme. Minnozzi winds up the album with a final Cinema Paradiso number, Maturity, evoking a visceral sense of longing amid Costa’s turbulent phrasing. Count this as one of the most strikingly original releases of 2021.

December 27, 2021 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magos Herrera Brings Her Elegant, Genre-Defying, Poignant Songcraft to a Popular Outdoor Queens Spot

Singer Magos Herrera‘s music spans the worlds of jazz, film themes, contemporary classical and many styles from her native Mexico. This blog has witnessed her in a rapturous, intimate duo performance with her longtime collaborator, guitarist Javier Limon, as well as a much more lush and politically-fueled set with string quartet Brooklyn Rider. When live music was criminalized throughout much of the world in 2020, she turned to the web for supporting musicians. The result is Con Alma, the most eclectic album of an amazingly eclectic career, an “operatic tableau on isolation” streaming at Bandcamp. Herrera is back in action in New York, with a 7 PM gig outdoors on Halloween night at Terraza 7, where she’s leading a quintet. The Elmhurst venue is best known for jazz, so that’s probably going to be what Herrera brings to the stage, but knowing her, anything is possible.

The album is a mix of energetic acoustic guitar-driven numbers, imaginative pieces for orchestra and vocals and choral works. As you would expect from an album created during the lockdown, there’s an ever-present apprehension, but also hope. As fascinating as this music is, you will want to skip track seven – a found-sound collage on which Herrera does not appear – which contains PTSD-inducing samples of social engineering run hideously amok, a 2020 artifact best buried forever.

The first track is La Creación de las Aves, Vinicius Gomes’ circling, nimbly fingerpicked  acoustic guitar loop anchored by Jeffrey Zeigler’s sweeping cello and Gonzalo Grau’s lithely understated cajon.

Tree of 40 Fruit begins as an uneasily close-harmonied soundscape, layers of wordless vocals by Constellation Chor‘s Marisa Michelson blended with a little crowd-sourced spoken word on themes of isolation and alienation. She quickly builds it to an anguished series of peaks: the effect of all the multitracks wipes away any sense of loneliness or abandonment.

Clarinetist Kinan Azmeh joins with guitarist Romero Lubambo for moody but energetic dynamics in Rojo Sol, a bristling, flamenco-tinged ballad. Alma Muerta, a choral collaboration with Ensemble Sjaella rises from a desolate, Gregorian chant-influenced atmosphere to a web of stricken, shocked operatic riffs.

With her broodingly impassioned vocalese, Herrera and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería reinvent the album’s title cut – a Dizzy Gillespie hit – as a shapeshifting mini-suite, moving from cumulo-nimbus orchestration to a delicately bouncy, balletesque rhythm.

Ensemble Sjaella return for Fratres, by Paola Prestini, Herrera and the choir moving uneasily between early Renaissance-flavored ornamentation, grey-sky ambience and tremoloing atmospherics.

The lush treble counterpoint of Prestini’s Thrush Song, sung by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, offers a glimpse of hope. Herrera and her Mexican orchestral colleagues wind up the album with a strikingly stark, gracefully rhythmic take of Cucurrucucú, a longing-infused ballad made famous by Mexican singer Ana María González in 1954.

October 27, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Blissful Return For Arturo O’Farrill’s Paradigm-Shifting Afro-:Latin Jazz at Birdland

The live music meme in New York this summer is bliss. At his relentlessly entertaining show Sunday night at Birdland with his Afro-Latin Jazz Octet, pianist Arturo O’Farrill spoke to the “infinite loop” between musicians and audience, and how crucial that dynamic is for a performer The club wasn’t quite sold out, probably due to the impending storm outside, but you should have heard the thunderous standing ovation at the end of the show. That infinite loop resonated just as powerfully on both ends.

It helps that O’Farrill is a personable guy and loves to engage the crowd, but in a subtly erudite way. Since the 90s, he’s pushed the envelope about as far as anyone can go with what could loosely be called latin jazz, and he dares the listener to think along with him. And the band seemed as amped as he was to interact with everybody who’d come out.

Much as O’Farrill’s music is colorful and picturesque, there’s always a balance between unbridled passion and a zen-like discipline: nobody in this group overplays. At just about any concert, it’s almost inevitable that somebody gets carried away. Not this crew.

They opened with a broodingly Ellingtonian cha-cha and closed with a more exuberant salsa-jazz tune. Right off the bat, O’Farrill was busting loose: he gets all kinds of props as a composer, but we forget what a brilliant pianist he is. Lickety-split spiral staircase elegance, meticulously articulated yet spine-tingling cascades, moonlight sonatas that flashed by in seconds flat, DAMN. He didn’t confine all that to his opening solo, either.

Trumpeter Jim Seeley and trombonist Mariel Bildstein chose their spots, throughout a lot of deceptively sophisticated counterpoint. Whether everybody in the band is consciously aware of it or not, they’re all ultimately part of the rhythm section.

Bassist Bam Bam Rodriguez ranged from undulating grooves, to hazy uneasy, to a ridiculously comedic exchange with the bandleader late in the set. Drummer Vince Cherico is the secret timbalero in this project, particularly with his hypnotic rimshots, woodblock and bell. Conguero Keisel Jimenez had fun taking a turn on the mic for a singalong, clapalong take of the old salsa classic Manteca. His fellow percussionist Carlos Maldonado fueled several upward trajectories with his boomy cajon while tenor saxophonist Ivan Renta ranged from incisive to balmy to taking a carefree turn on flute.

And the compositions were as wide-ranging as anyone could hope for. There was the shapeshifting, chuffing La Llorona, from one of many of O’Farrill’s ballet suites, scheduled for release on album this winter (if there isn’t lockdowner interference). He drew some laughs when he introduced a restless, lustrous jazz waltz arrangement of the old Scottish air She Moves Through the Fair as a shout-out to his heritage (check the last name for validation).

He explained the matter-of-factly crescendoing Compa’Doug as a portrait of two guys out at night raising hell, although the group took their time with the song’s careful, saturnine development before a rather sober evening rolled into the wee hours. El Sur, a Gabriel Alegria tune, wound out expansively from a Peruvian festejo beat to a hypnotically circular, almost qawwali-ish 6/8 groove with punchy incisions from the horns. And O’Farrill warned that his tune Tanguanco – a mashup of tango and a slinky Cuban rhythm – was dangerously sexy, the percussion section anchoring it with a turbulent undercurrent.

O’Farrill and the octet continue their renewed weekly residency at Birdland every Sunday night at 7 PM; cover s $20.

August 3, 2021 Posted by | concert, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One of the World’s Mightiest Latin Jazz Orchestras Gets Back to Business at Birdland

When a bunch of oligarchs and their puppets in politics tried to take over the world in 2020, musicians were left out in the cold. In the liner notes to his new album Virtual Birdland, pianist Arturo O’Farrill, longtime leader of the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra takes care to mention how people who play music for a living are no less essential than any other workers. Empowered by that knowledge, he kept the band going through a long series of webcasts, possibly the most labor-intensive of all the innumerable online collaborations of the past sixteen months or so. The great news is that the big band’s home base, Birdland, is open again, and the group have resumed the Sunday night residency they were banished from in March of last year. Showtime these days is 7 PM.. If you feel like celebrating, it couldn’t hurt to reserve a spot now since these shows are very likely to sell out. Cover is $20; your best deal is a seat at the bar.

Considering that individual parts on the record – streaming at Spotify – were recorded remotely in innumerable different sonic environments, the fact that it sounds as contiguous as it does reflects the herculean work of the engineers involved.

Big trombone fanfares interweave with lushly swirling reeds over a bubbling Punjabi-inflected groove in the cuisine-inspired opening number, Gulab Jamon. O’Farrill takes a cascading, brightly neoromantic solo with Bam Bam Rodriguez’s bass growling minimalistically behind him while the rhythm straightens into an emphatic clave. Tenor saxophonist Jasper Dutz summons a return to a web of triumphant counterpoint and a devious false ending.

Guest Malika Zarra sings her composition Pouvoir, a slinky, brassy Moroccan-flavored tune with solos from trombonist Mariel Bildstein and conguero Keisel Jimenez. This band have always slayed with Arabic and Jewish themes, underscored by their version of trombonist Rafi Malkiel’s brooding Desert, its uneasily undulating chromatics giving way to a serpentine solo by the composer and then a muted, soulful one from lead trumpeter Seneca Black.

With its nocturnal, Dizzy Gillespie-style suspense and bluster, Larry Willis’ Nightfall makes a great segue, trumpeter Rachel Therrien and tenor saxophonist Ivan Renta cutting loose hauntingly between the orchestra’s chromatic gusts. The bandleader spirals elegantly; Jimenez goes deep down the well as the storm hovers.

Guest guitarist Ghazi Faisal Al-Mulaifi sings his methodical, bittersweet ballad Ana Mashoof, adding a starry solo in tandem with O’Farrill before Alejandro Aviles spins in on soprano sax. Alto saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera soars and weaves through a tightly turbulent take of his Samba For Carmen, echoed by O’Farrill’s trumpeter son Adam.

Alafia, by Letieres Leite – the Brazilian Arturo O’Farrill – gets a jubilant, percussion-fueled workout, part elegantly orchestral candomble theme, part feral frevo brass-band romp with a tantalizingly brief, smoky Larry Bustamante baritone sax solo.

O’Farrill first performed Rafael Solano’s En La Oscuridad with his big band legend father Chico O’Farrill alongside the great tenor saxophonist Mario Rivera, so playing this suave, balmy ballad again with Renta, a Rivera protege, brings the song full circle.

They close the album with a couple of salutes to transgression, something the world is rising to embrace like never before. The epic take of Papo Vazquez’s relentlessly anthemic Cimarron first features calm triumph from trombonist Abdulrahman Amer, Aviles turning up the heat on alto, then percussionist Carly Maldonado fueling a charge out. The final number is a towering, cinematic take of Tito Puente’s Para Los Rumberos: Renta, Malkiel, Maldonado, Jimenez and drummer Vince Cherico all get to cut loose. How beautiful it is that we can hear musicians of this caliber take material like this to the next level onstage again.

And if you’re around the East Village on the 29th, O’Farrill is leading a much smaller group at St. Marks Park at 2nd Ave. and 10th St. at half past noon.

July 25, 2021 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Titanic, Imaginatively Orchestrated Salsa Swing Album From the Iconic Ruben Blades

What an inspiration it is to see the most fearlessly original paradigm-shifter of all the salsa dura pioneers of the 70s still pushing the envelope. Ruben Blades‘ new album Salswing with Roberto Delgado & Orquesta – streaming at Spotify – is aptly titled, a lavishly symphonic latin jazz project. Blades’ voice is a bit more wintry than it was forty years ago, but he tackles the material here – an imaginative mashup of jazz standards and salsa – with his usual soul and gravitas. Listen closely and you discover that he’s overdubbed his own coros. Hearing him hit those high notes on the second track reaffirms his indominable stature as leader of the old school – which in his case makes him just as much a leader of the new school.

Delgado’s Panamanian ensemble and his colorful, edgy charts make a good match. They open with Paula C, the lushness enhanced by the Venezuela Strings Recording Ensemble. Guest Eduardo Pineda’s Rhodes piano bubbles amid the brassy gusts, trumpeter Juan Carlos “Wichy” Lopez reaching for the stratosphere and nailing it.

Blades lands somewhere between Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. in a blazing, ebullient take of Pennies from Heaven, trombone soloist Xito Lovell cascading down out of a sunburst brass break. The textures and exchanges between the reeds and brass in the instrumental Mambo Gil have grit to match their majesty, alto saxophonist Jahaziel Arrocha taking a tantalizingly brief, spiraling solo.

Blades goes into nuanced crooner mode for Ya No Me Duele over the bandleader’s strolling bass pulse, Tom Kubis adding flourishes on alto sax amid the towering brass. The vocals on Watch What Happens are bordering on breathless, effectively driving home the song’s ironclad optimism over the sudden swells of the orchestra. Blades reaches for similar intensity, but with a more imploring feel in Cobarde and its intricate, understated polyrhythms.

Lopez’s balmy, straightforward trumpet solo flies over an elegant midtempo swing beat in Do I Hear Four?, the group’s counterpoint rising toward inferno levels. There’s a little more drama and mystery in Blades’ voice in Canto Niche, Juan Berna switching between piano and echoey Rhodes. The Way You Look Tonight is the closest thing to a coyly seductive, straight-up fifties Sinatra swing tune here,

Blades winds up the record with a couple of slinky barn-burners. Ricky Rodriguez’s low-key, tumbling piano and Alejandro “Chichisin” Castillo’s smoky baritone sax anchor the dynamically-shifting, colorful Contrabando, Raul Aparicio’s accordion popping in unexpectedly. Similarly, Tambó rises from a streetcorner intro from the percussion section to an insistent, driving oldschool salsa groove. A titanic achievement from a huge, semi-rotating ensemble that also includes percussionists Ademir Berrocal, Raul Rivera, Carlos Perez Bido, Jose Ramon Guerra and Luis Mitil; Francisco Delvecchio and Avenicio Nunez on trombones; Carlos Ubarte, Ivan Navarro and Luis Carlos Perez on saxes; Milton Salcedo, Dino Nugent, Ceferino Caban and Dario Boente on piano; Carlos Quiros on bass; Carlos Camacho on vibes; and Abraham Dubarron on guitar.

May 4, 2021 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Subtly Powerful Album of Protest Jazz From Afro-Peruvian Bandleader Gabriel Alegria

“Social distancing.”

Ewwwwww.

Of all the oxymorons in lockdowner newspeak, that’s the most odious. In terms of being self-contradictory, it’s second only to “remote learning” – a very, very, very, very remote approximation of the real thing.

Trumpeter Gabriel Alegría‘s new album of protest jazz – streaming at Spotify – is titled Social Distancing. It’s almost all-instrumental, and the few moments that are not speak to healing, or are cached in metaphorical terms rather than leveling any specific accusation. Yet as a parable of and reaction to the fascist horror of 2020, it’s unsurpassed.

The centerpiece is The Mask, a stark urban noir soul tableau which is almost all bass and percussion until horns and violin join in shivering terror behind a metaphorically loaded spoken word passage by percussionist Freddy Lobaton. No names are mentioned, but there is a devil involved.

Kitty O’Meara reads her lockdown poem And the People Stayed Home in the opening track, And the People, which is balmy yet somber, Alegria terse and resonant alongside Alex Gonzalez’s violin, backed by Jocho Velasquez’s acoustic guitar, Mario Cuba’s bass, and Hugo Alcázar’s drums. The group reprise it in Spanish at the end of the album: its message of hope and transformation (but not in a bastardized New Abnormal way) went viral a year ago.

The rest of the album explores a wide range of dynamics, with both optimism and some searing critiques. In Mirando El Shingo, a catchy tropical anthem, the percussion section work a gusty groove as the bass dances, Alegria and then saxophonist Laura Andrea Leguía sail overhead. The next track, titled COVID-19, has both a boisterous New Orleans-flavored rhythm but also acidic twelve-tone harmony grounded in Russell Ferrante’s piano and the guitar. Leguía’s modal solo has an aptly distant ominousness: five out of six people had natural immunity, but the fake news media kept the fear blaring 24/7.

George and Breonna, a shout-out to the late George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, is built around a festive exchange of trumpet and sax riffs over a cantering 12/8 groove, in the Mingus tradition: exuberant song, grimly relevant title. The New Normal turns out to be a slinky organ tune with Monklike blues phantasmagoria from Yuri Juarez’s guitar and an increasingly dissociative raveup from the rest of the band.

Leguía switches to soprano sax for Any Day Now, whose initial, jaunty brightness grows more enigmatic as the harmonies get more complex and the percussion kick up a storm: she delivers another killer, modally-spiced solo midway through. Amaranta is an uneasy, airy take on late 50s Miles Davis and the best song on the album. The false start into a waltz, Alegria’s sobering, crystalline solo over crashing cymbals, and Leguía’s spine-tingling legato are just a few highlights.

Driven by energetic trumpet and sax over a churning groove, Octavio y Natalia was inspired by Alegria’s and Juarez’s kids playing together. Both dads want to make sure their kids get to enjoy a normal childhood, but knowing that their lives could be imperiled by racist hate is part of the picture. This one’s on the shortlist for best jazz albums of 2021.

March 20, 2021 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Gorgeous, Rare Accordion Concertos to Celebrate an Icon

In celebration of the Astor PIazzolla centenary, classical accordionist Jovica Ivanović and the Ukrainian Chamber Orchestra have released a whole album of two of the rarest pieces in the symphonic repertoire: the accordion concerto.

Titled Piazzolla and Galliano, it features majestic works by the iconic Argentine bandoneonist and also by the great Richard Galliano and is streaming at Spotify. Both pieces are absolutely gorgeous and meticulously performed. That both soloist (Ivanovic is Serbian) and orchestra come from accordion-rich cultures might have something to do with it. In a smart bit of programming, the decision to program these two works together, rather than Piazzolla and rehashed Piazzolla from one of his innumerable acolytes, pays off mightily.

Ivanović and the ensemble open with Piazzolla’s Aconcagua, which begins with an insistent but light-footed pulse, staccato accordion matched by the strings and spiced with sweeping piano cascades. The first accordion solo is characteristically dynamic: echoey but traditionally tangoesque, then when the orchestra drop out Ivanović gets to show off some jaunty lyricism. The group bring back an elegant sweep that never lets up no matter how turbulent the music grows.

Ivanović takes his time with a sagacious, reflective solo to open the moderato second movement. Again, the balance between judicious piano and lush strings is striking, even as Ivanović bring back the delicately dancing introductory theme. They attack the gusty concluding movement with a similar dynamism, its bracing chromatic moments, bursting rhythms and momentary detours into wistfulness. 

The opening movement of Galliano’s Opale Concerto is marked allegro furioso: Ivanović’s machete accents and icepick staccato contrast with the looming unease and Tchaikovskian color from the orchestra, as well as his rapidfire lines over a catchy, anthemic bassline from massed low strings.

The lyrical variations, artful echo effects and bittersweetly reflective moments diverge momentarily toward a brooding tarantella in the moderato malinconico second movement: it’s arguably the album’s most captivating interlude. Ivanović and the orchestra provide an air-cushioned ride over some pretty rocky terrain as the coda descends to a nocturnal grandeur, and then a final salute which is the only place where the Piazzolla influence cannot be denied. What an impact he made, and it’s still resonating almost thirty years after we lost him.

January 24, 2021 Posted by | classical music, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The South Florida Jazz Orchestra Smolder and Blaze Through Latin-Tinged Rick Margitza Tunes

Several years back, bassist Chuck Bergeron and his South Florida Jazz Orchestra put out an absolutely incendiary album featuring a six-trumpet frontline. Their latest release, Cheap Thrills – streaming at Spotify – is more subtle, joining forces with Paris-based saxophonist Rick Margitza for a diverse and cleverly orchestrated album of his compositions. There are plenty of thrills here, but the title is sarcastic: this is sophisticated fun. Margitza likes latin rhythms, which the group excel at, so the material here is a particularly good fit.

They open with the title track, a clustering clave tune that hits an uneasy chromatic drive, then the orchestra back away for spare guitar and piano solos from John Hart and Martin Bejerano, respectively. Margitza follows with uneasy modal sax over Bejerano’s spare incisions. From there they dip to a more suspenseful pulse and some neat polyrhythmic development

The opening coyness of The Place to Be is a red herring, as this jaunty little stroll gets more complex with lustrous reeds and horns. It’s a study in how radically different moods, from blithe to noir, can be created from exactly the same materials. Brace Yourself, an ebullient cha-cha, also has a funny intro, Hart and Margitza parsing its vampy changes up to where the brass takes it deeper toward salsa and then a series of amusing false endings.

Widow’s Walk – like many of these tracks, a new arrangement of an older small-group number – follows a brooding tangent from a pensive six-note piano figure up to a brass-fueled blaze, a gently wan Margitza solo over a bossa-tinged groove, a moody Chris Jentsch-ish guitar solo and a coda that seems completely out of place for a lament. Obviously, there could be more to this story: otherwise, it could be a Frank Foster tune from the 50s.

Gritty low brass gives a clenched-teeth intensity to 45 Pound Hound, then the group swing it with a jubilant Brian Lynch trumpet solo, Margitza taking it further into the blues before the full orchestra build slowly toward a fiery conclusion. It’s the most enigmatic, most subtly powerful number here.

Premonition is one of those one-take wonders that left the band and its leader pretty breathless when they realized they’d nailed its puffing, distantly ominous syncopation: bass and low brass figure heavily, Margitza’s solo guiding the band into cheerier terrain. Walls, originally a genially shuffling small-group number, gets fleshed out with flourishes from brass, piano and a scrambling Bejerano solo. It’s the album’s most trad composition.

The group bring back the clave in Sometimes I Have Rhythm,with its tongue-in-cheek references to a famous tune and an unexpectedly chill, soulful Greg Gisbert trumpet solo. Margitza’s swirls lead the group up to a jovial peak: once again, they show off the song’s salsa roots at the end. The lone cover here is a plush, increasingly slinky latinized and sometimes completely unrecognizable take of Embraceable You.

Interesting charts and strong performances from a group that also includes reedmen Gary Keller, Gary Lindsay, Ed Calle, Jason Kush, David Leon, Phil Doyle and Mike Brignola; trumpeters John Daversa, Jason Carder, Alex Norris, Pete Francis, Augie Haas, Jesus Mato and Jared Hal; trombonists Dante Luciani, John Kricker, Andrew Peal, Derek Pyle, Haden Mapel and Major Bailey; percussionist Xavier Desandre Navarre and drummer John Yarling.

January 22, 2021 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment