Lucid Culture


CD Review: Kat Parra & the Sephardic Music Experience – Dos Amantes

Chanteuse Kat Parra made a splash a couple of years ago with her Birds in Flight album, a groundbreaking blend of latin jazz and Middle Eastern-inflected Spanish Sephardic music. This cd, her third, maintains the alternately haunting, rousing and seductive sound that’s become her signature. Backed by an inspired latin band led by pianist Murray Low and featuring Stephanie Antoine on violin, Masaru Koga on sax and flute, Peter Barshay on bass, Paul van Wageningen on drums and Katja Cooper on percussion, she makes her way through a diverse mix of traditional Spanish Jewish songs from across the years, piquantly rearranged with a salsa groove. Parra sings in Ladino, which is to Spanish what Yiddish is to German, the language of the Andalusian Jews dating back to the eighth century.

The arrangements here may be latin, but the melodies are indelibly Levantine. In places, the band will go off on a latin tangent, but they always come back to the hook that gives the songs a foundation, as with the opening track, Los Bilbilicos (The Nightingales). There’s a big Middle Eastern flute flourish to kick it off, then the vocals follow in the same vein, but then its terse latin arrangement gets breezy with a big percussion break straight out of Spanish Harlem. The title track could be a Rahbani Brothers hit from Lebanon, 1955 with some extra soul and rhumba rhythms. En La Mar (In the Ocean) is a flamenco jazz number driven by Jason McGiure’s acoustic guitar and vivid flute accents.

Somewhat incongruously titled, Fiestaremos (Let’s Party) is big and gospelish with its massive choir of voices standing in contrast against a carefree flute melody. Avrix Mi Galanica (Open the Door, My Dear Girl) is the most modern of all the tracks here, flute contrasting with electric piano for an Egyptian pop ballad feel. The absurdly catchy La Vida Do Por El Raki (I’d Give My Life for Raki) is a traditional drinking song with a dark undercurrent – evidently the Balkan apple brandy known as rakija further east made its way to Spain. The last song is a contemporary Hanukah number, a children’s song actually, but it’s irresistibly infectious and fun for all ages. This album ought to resonate equally well with adventurous latin music fans as well as devotees of Levantine music of all kinds. Bay Area fans can catch Parra’s cd release show for this one on January 18 at 8 PM at Yoshi’s, 1330 Fillmore St. in San Francisco.

January 13, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet – Bien Bien!

How can you tell if a latin jazz album’s any good? Well, for one, if you can dance to it. For the new one by trombonist Wayne Wallace‘s Latin Jazz Quintet, the answer is a joyous si! Over the course of two deliriously good Ellington covers, an imaginative rearrangement of a Coltrane classic and some rambunctious originals, they cover a variety of styles perfect for swinging or snuggling across the floor. In the spirit of the great latin bands of the 40s and 50s, there are as many as four trombonists on the album, including Ellington Orchestra vets Julian Priester and Dave Martell along with Murray Low on piano, David Belove on bass and percussionists Michael Spiro and Paul van Wageningen on trap drums. Obviously, with all the trombones, they go for a big sound, but there’s plenty of space for the rest of the band as well.

Of the originals, the best is the album’s title track, a rousing guaguanco. Eddie Harris’ Freedom Jazz Dance gets a slinky bomba treatment; another original, Mojito Cafe sets an expansive Low piano solo over some tricky changes and eventually a crescendoing call-and-response between the vocals and Wallace’s trombone. Memo Acevedo’s Building Bridges is inspiring and optimistic, with a sweet ensemble horn chart. The deceptively simple cha-cha Playa Negra – another original – is bouncy and even seductive. And the Duke would be proud of how Wallace works In a Sentimental Mood as wee-hours theme music, along with the group’s strikingly dark, intense version of Going Up (Subete).

The album wraps up with two innovative covers. Sonny Rollins’ Solid is basically a blues with a latin groove, transformed into a showcase in subtlety as the group brings it down to just Low and the percussion before soaring up again. And Coltrane’s Africa is brought vividly into focus, straight up and accelerated considerably over an unstoppable groove. It’s quite a change from the original but it works because it’s so different, and embraces the melody so strongly. This works equally well as dance music, as party music and just for listening. Wallace is a California native with an exhaustive gigging schedule: his next one with this crew is as part of the San Ramon Jazz Series at the San Ramon Library, 100 Montgomery St. in San Ramon, CA on November 20 at 8 PM.

October 30, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment