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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Intriguingly Poetic Spanish and English Jazz Album From Roxana Amed

Singer Roxana Amed writes vividly and poetically in both English and her native Spanish. The Argentine expat’s transition to a new life in the free state of Florida was not easy, but it inspired her to new, individualistic heights of creativity that blend Buenos Aires art-song with American jazz and other styles. Every time she hears a tune she likes, it seems she wants to write lyrics for it: so much the better.

Her new album – streaming at Spotify – is titled Ontology. Is this a magnum opus, her Being and Nothingness? It’s more of a concise document of where her music is at right now. She’s got a killer band behind her, the core comprising the reliably excellent Martin Bejerano on piano, with Mark Small on sax, Edward Perez on bass, and Ludwig Alfonso on drums.

Guitarist Aaron Lebos runs a menacing loop as Bejerano adds sinister glitter in the slow, slinky, Lynchian intro to the album’s opening track, Tumbleweed, Small wafting in from the distance. Amed’s uncluttered images of a troubled heart completely adrift add an increasingly disquieting edge as the music grows more anthemic, Perez dancing on coals out of the choruses. It’s a hard act to follow.

Chacarera Para La Mano Izquierda is a darkly rhythmic Bejerano tune with allusively celebratory lyrics by Amed, pouncing along with thorny syncopation. Small’s balmy lines float over Bejerano’s unhurried, glistening motives, guitarist Tim Jago adding resonance to Amed’s new vocal version of a Kendall Moore ballad, Peaceful: the gist is that a moment of calm gives us strength to regroup.

Amed reinvents Wayne Shorter’s Virgo as a slowly unfolding, misty-toned, blues-infused cosmology, backed by just spare piano and sax. For Miles Davis’ Blue in Green, she draws on the Cassandra Wilson version: Amed’s take has considerably more of a bounce, fueled by Jago’s dancing solo over Lowell Ringel’s bass and Rodolfo Zuniga’s lively drums.

Last Happy Hour is not a requiem for a bar but for Bejerano’s father, in the form of  a saturnine, stately pulsing, raptly mystical garden tableau. In her liner notes, Amed admits that tango for her is a pretty dark place, and that’s reflected in the rubato interludes in the otherwise spring-loaded Milonga Por la Ausencia, a conflicted look back at her home turf.

The album’s title track is an emotive nocturne, a tale of escape and return set to Bejerano’s gorgeously impressionistic piano, with terse bass and spare, moody sax trailing behind. Amed’s plaintive chromatics and Bejerano’s alternately resonant and scrambling piano rise agitatedly, only to back away for Small’s allusively ominous solo in El Regreso, the album’s big showstopper.

Amed lends her voice to two iconic Ginastera piano works, Danza de la Moza Donosa and Danza del Viejo Boyero. The former has a whole new level of mystery in what’s essentially a ragtime tune: exactly what happens to the dancer, we don’t know, but the end doesn’t look good. The latter is an exuberantly humorous exploration of indigenous Argentine beats, fueled by Zuniga’s polyrhythms.

Goodbye Rose Street, a rainy-night farewell to Amed’s old Buenos Aires neighborhood, shifts between glistening rubato and a bit of a stately, haunting ballad. The simply titled Amor, built around an ominously circling, hypnotic Bejerano riff and variations, rises to a towering angst capped off by Jago’s crashing guitar, a portrait of hope against hope. A rough translation from Amed’s more poetic Spanish:

Like the delicate sparkle of the moon
That draws the shadows of the rain
Like the wind that brings a seed
Hidden in storms of ash

She winds up the album with a spare departure ballad, Winter, just her gauzy vocals over Bejerano’s precise, considered, bittersweet neoromanticisms. It asks more questions than it answers: definitely a song, and an album, for our time.

May 18, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vivid Melodies, Nimbly Negotiated by the Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra

The Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra’s debut album, Bloom is luminous, lush and symphonic in a Maria Schneider vein. Although there are many different colors at play here, they tend to be bright, summery and vibrant. Translucent motifs shift through the arrangements with an unlikely nimble, assured, fleet-footedness for such majestic music: both the composer/conductor and her nineteen-piece ensemble deserve credit for manuevering through so many intricate turns. One particularly luminous timbre among many is singer Sara Serpa, whose wordless vocals add either brightness or opacity, depending on context. She’s a particularly good addition considering how singable Kakitani’s themes are. Throughout the album’s eight tracks, there are allusions to Brazil, the Romantic and late 70s Weather Report in the more amplified moments, but ultimately she has a singular voice.

The title track opens, a clinic in almost imperceptible crescendos, syncopated, suspenseful swells making way for an expansive John Bailey trumpet solo and then spiraling Jason Rigby tenor sax over Mark Ferber’s energetically dancing drums. As it reaches final altitude, Rigby builds to rapidfire clusters as the banks of clouds coalesce and move around him.

Electric Images moves around a lot; hazy ambience becomes a bright jazz waltz, bubbly Mike Eckroth Rhodes piano signals a tempo shift that slowly rises with Serpa’s guardedly hopeful lines, then lushness alternates with austerity all the way through a jaunty series of exchanges with the drums. Nobody gets stung in the Bumblebee Garden; rather, it’s a serene place for reverie from Serpa, trombonist Matt McDonald adding bluesiness to a decidedly non-bluesy atmosphere that builds to some tremendously interesting counterpoint between orchestra subgroups.

Dance One, inspired by the Matisse portrait of dancers in mid-stride, kicks off at full steam, working a tune evocative of the Police’s King of Pain, rich with countermelodies, smartly crescendoing John O’Gallagher alto sax and a nifty series of trick endings. Opened Opened , the first of two pieces from Kakitani’s suite Reimagining My Childhood, expands a traditional Japanese folk melody with a bluesy minor-key edge fueled by serioso Serpa vocalese, smoldering Kenny Berger bass clarinet and fiery dynamics that turn the low brass loose with an unexpected ferocity in what at first appeared to be such a gentle piece of music. The second song from that suite, Dragonfly’s Glasses is basically a segue and considerably brighter, lit up by a casual, airy Ben Kono alto sax solo as it sways up to another false ending.

Islands in the Stream is not the Kenny Rogers schlockfest but an original (Kakitani may not have been born yet when that monstrosity hit the airwaves). That too makes a good segue: Afrobeat allusions give way to a jazz waltz, Berger’s baritone sax handing off to Pete McCann’s bell-like solo guitar, trumpeter Matt Holman building from wary to carefree before tenor saxophonist Mark Small darkens it again…and then McCann takes it up, unleashed and screaming. The final track, Skip, takes a gentle ballad melody, syncopates it in 9/4 up to a dancing Eckroth piano solo, lets trombonist Mark Patterson heat up the warm lyricism and takes it out with a joyous Weather Report pulse. Other contributors to this disarmingly attractive album include Jeff Wilfore and David Spier on trumpets, Jacob Garchik on trombone, Jeff Nelson on bass trombone and Dave Ambrosio on acoustic and electric bass.

The Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra plays the cd release show on Feb 11 at 7:15 PM at Drom; advance tix are only $10. They’re also playing Shapeshifte Lab on Feb 28 at 8 for the same deal.

January 31, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment