Jazz CD Reviews
Jazz CD Reviews March-April Part 1 of 2
Published on March 1, 2005
March-April 2005 Part 1 of 2 [Pt. 2]
Marta Gomez – Cantos de Agua Dulce – Marta Gomez and her Quartet – Chesky JD 281, 53:35 **** [Also available as a hybrid multichannel SACD]:
Marta Gomez is a young woman who has chosen to take South American folk-rhythms, and folk songs, and infuse them with a jazz sensibility. Of these raw materials she composes her own tunes and lyrics to make songs. She goes on to perform them as though they were Schubert lieder; that is, she sings them with spare accompaniment and exquisite control. That’s not to say she sings with all the trills and artifice of the Schubertian belle canto style: quite the opposite. She sings with the simplicity and plaintive quality of an indigenous folk singer you might catch giving a lunchtime recital at the Mexico City Museum of Anthropology, in Chapultepec Park. Her voice is free of vibrato. She hangs some notes out there for us to feel, beautiful notes held long enough to contemplate, in her rather small, sad voice. She is accompanied by minimal forces; typically, guitar, bass, drums, and on some songs she’ll add a flute or accordion.
You might think of Astrud Gilberto singing Bossa Nova here, but hers is a highly sophisticated style developed for jazz singing in nightclubs, complete with microphones, amps, speakers, drumsets, and saxophones. Marta Gomez sings more simply, like Peggy Lee (who sings almost free of ornament), or Kelly Flint (who sings similarly with the band, Dave’s True Story). Marta may have more in common with Peggy Lee, who also wrote many song lyrics. And while she sings simply, Marta Gomez is in control of her complex art every second. Her only real similarity to Astrud Gilberto is they both have the charm of the “little girl” voice, and they both are latinas. Marta sings of her Colombian girlhood, happy times, favorite places, and food. And these songs are affecting, but she just tears me up when she sings about love. Shreds me.
To her lover Marta writes; “When I see you, I feel like a thousand ants are running through my chest. It’s like a hundred butterflies flying through my body. It all starts in my head, then it goes into my chest and then it starts all over again.” I think I remember a special someone in my teens the very sight of whom made me feel like I’d been invaded by ants and butterflies. When we separated, if only for a day or two, I ached. Do you remember your first love? How it felt? When we parted it was like needles in my heart. But I’m not the poet here. The songs of Marta Gomez are filled with such wistful, melancholy tunes, with such sly and subtle poetry, that they reach down into my sensibilities and make me feel her songs in a way that I haven’t felt songs in a long, long time. And what does she write about? She writes about home, flavors, sunsets, learning how to kiss, how to cry; tears, pain, love lost.
Some artforms are so universally moving they seem to reach inside us before we can get our defenses in place, like doo-wops ballads (now in their third generation of listeners) “Earth Angel,” and “In The Still Of The Night.” These simple songs were written and recorded by teenagers for teenagers in the mid-fifties, when I was a teenager. My kids listened to them as teenagers, in the mid-eighties. I’m told there are teenaged grandchildren of my cohort that are now rediscovering those doo-wops. What is appealing about them, I hypothesize, is the bitter-sweet description of first love, the simple structures of the songs, and the sometime wails of adolescent suffering that became part of the performers’ style. Roy Orbison’s “Crying Over You” for but one example. Marta doesn’t wail, but she’s caught on to adolescent yearning among other things.
Nor is Marta Gomez a one-trick pony. She also writes to children what a joy it is to be six years old. She writes how she hopes her expected child will arrive soon to find her singing. She writes of seasonal change, the joy of spring. (Wasn’t there a Clifford Brown tune, “Joyspring?”) Of her commemorative composition “Canta!” (“Sing!”) she writes; “Dedicated to the tragedy of 03/11/04 in Spain. There are times to sing and times to cry. Fortunately the Spanish have learned the beautiful ability of doing both at the same time.” Of her song “Delecta” (“Recipe”) she writes: “1/4 of green peppers, 1 onion, 1 glass of wine, a dash of sesame, 4 carrots, 1 teaspoon of brown sugar, cinnamon, and a piece of you. 1 full moon, a place to sleep with plenty of candles, 4 bare feet, 1 teaspoon of brown sugar, cinnamon. And love is about to be made.” Or, of the song “Aguellas Pequeñas Cosas” (“Those Little Things”) she writes: “Flora, my first voice teacher and good friend, sung me this song once, a long time ago and it just got stuck on my heart. It’s a song that talks about the simple things of life, those memories that don’t leave our house and come at the moment we least expect to make us cry, just like now when I sing it and that magic afternoon of my childhood comes back to me once again.”
If art is the composer’s subtle manipulation of the audience to get us to experience the various emotions we all share, then Marta Gomez is an artist of the first rank. Her art is to use folk songs and folk rhythms to create an ambiance of simplicity that complexly conveys our inner states, our humanity. She does this in what is an apparently artless way that suggests an earlier time when grandma sang songs of first love, like “Chanson D’Amour” in France. This young woman, singing songs of the archaic past, of the tribal experience, the family experience, the individual experience, her childhood, suggests to me that Marta Gomez is an artist possessing great depth of understanding. Her world is that of music, poetry, and the human condition. She is able to perform her material with consummate control. And over her shoulder I sometimes think I hear the face of a smiling Jorge Luis Borges. I know it is premature to herald the arrival of a performer’s first album as if it were the coming of a new age in performance art, but I believe Marta Gomez has the potential to become something special, similar in style to Astrud Gilberto, Peggy Lee, and Kelly Flint, and similar in impact (if not in presentation) to Edith Piaf. Sad, a little nationalistic, a little fatalistic, she may embody the post-existential view. She is a welcome relief from the drivel of the pop scene.
So, if you’d like to hear a hauntingly hip new vocalist — one you might leave on the CD player for days, or your car system for weeks — you ought to check out the sweet water songs on the latest Chesky album, “Marta Gomez: Cantos de Agua Dulce”; Chesky JD 281. She is accompanied by Julio Santillan, guitar; Franco Pinna, drums; Fernando Huergo, electric bass; and Alejandra Ortiz, back-up vocals and small percussion. On some numbers they are joined by Evan Harlan, accordion; or Fernando Brandao, flute. They were recorded at Saint Peter’s Church, in New York. The recording engineer was the gifted Barry Wolifson, and I’m sure David Chesky had his ultra-cool hand in the production. This is another example of the taste and all around excellence of the Chesky team. I think I’ll make this another winner of Max Dudious’s Recording of the Year Award. I really dig this album. How much? “Most Highly Recommended.” That’s how much! So if you want to be the hippest, most with-it, Dudeliest Dude on your block, get a copy of this CD. You won’t be sorry.
— Max Dudious.
Harvie S – Texas Rumba; zoho ZM 200401 CD ****:
Texas Rumba is a blend of traditional and modern jazz style with Latin rhythms. Harvie S is a bassist who’s played with some Latin jazz superstars like Ray Barretto, Paquito D’Rivera, Ray Vega, and Arturo Sandoval. After a trip to Cuba in 1996, he has been working to make the synergistic combination of Afro-Cuban music with modern jazz and with this album he has most definitely succeeded. Don’t discount the album based on it being another collection of often-repeated Latin numbers—far from it. Each song has its own individual personality and connects with the listener in the way that being at a live club does. All but two of the tracks are original compositions: one of which is a brooding, solo piece composed and performed by the piano player, Daniel Kelly. The other, is “Monk’s Mood,” by Thelonious Monk played solo by Harvie S on bass.
After listening to the record, it is clear that Harvie S is not only a talented musician, but an excellent composer and leader as well. Aside from Kelly, other members of the band are: Scott Robert Avidon (tenor and soprano sax), Renato Thoms (percussion), Adam Weber (drums), and Gregory Rivkin (trumpet). The performance is tight and the music is solid without a weak track in the bunch. For a step over the wild side, just check out track 10, “Underneath It All.” If you enjoy jazz with a little Latin flavor and a lot of heart, you are sure to fall in love with this record. Recommended. Songs included are: Texas Rumba; good News; From Now On; curved Corners; Blindside; Momentano; Before; Facil; Monk’s Mood; Underneath It All; Floating.
Stefano di Battista, alto and soprano sax – Parker’s Mood (with Kenny Barron, piano; Flavio Boltro, trumpet; Rosario Bonaccorso, bass; Herlin Riley, drums) – Blue Note/EMI 7243 8 66740 2 9V, ****:
This disc was provided without a booklet or news release, but the music on it makes it more than clear that Italian saxist Di Battista has Charlie Parker’s style down cold. It’s rather amazing to hear these Parker classics in such clean and modern-sounding sonics. The venue was an Italian studio. Kenny Barron provides a strong piano presence in the group and sounds unfazed by the breakneck tempi and wild note-spinning of Parker’s tunes. Europeans seem to be more in tune than U.S. audiences with recreations and tributes such as this. But I would think any Parker aficionado would fine them captivating no matter what continent they are on.
Tracks: Salt Peanuts, Embraceable You, Night in Tunisia, Parker’s Mood, Confirmation, Donna Lee, Laura, Hot House, Congo Blues, ‘Round Midnight
Two great jazz pianists up next…
Sir Roland Hanna, solo piano – Everything I Love – IPO Recordings IPOC1002 (disc furnished by ClassiQuest.com and may be purchased at iporecordings.com), ****:
Hanna is a good choice for the strictly solo route. He comes out of the blues but imbued with a witty and sophisticated approach that isn’t afraid to quote or reference classical composers or even tunes that just aren’t done by jazz pianists – such as the opener here – Comedy Tonight, from the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. In Porter’s You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To Hanna delves in passing into Schubert, Chopin, Grieg and Rachmaninoff. Other tracks partake of the spirit of impressionism. Hanna reports that the recording session went much as did his hero Art Tatum’s sessions years ago: He would play a tune, stop when he thought he was finished, say he was going to the next tune, and then start again. His Steinway comes across beautifully in this disc with the original master recorded at 96K/24bit.
Tracks: Comedy Tonight, Bags – A Tribute, Lullaby of the Leaves, I Hear a Rhapsody, You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To, Send in the Clowns, In the Blue of the Evening, All Blues, Comes Autumn, Embraceable You, How Deep Is the Ocean, Alone Together, Everything I Love.
George Shearing – Like Fine Wine (with Reg Schwager, guitar & Neil Swainson, bass) – Mack Avenue Records MAC 1015, ****:
This was one of the last recording sessions for the pianist who had been in a class by himself for many decades now. His smooth and lush harmonies were unique, and it all seemed to come so easily for him. He had a lot of fun with his music too, and with his comments between tunes – often dealing with painful puns. The album title is apt – Shearing’s art was like the finest wine. The rhythm section of guitar and bass fits so much more aptly to Shearing’s style than the usual bass and drums.
Tracks: Giant Steps, All Too Soon, You and the Night and the Music, Who Can I Turn To?, Moon Ray, Tricrotism, Welcome to My Dream, Lullaby in Rhythm, Lullaby in Rhythm, So Rare, Moose the Mooche, When Lights are Low, Why Did I Choose You?, Con Alma, The End of a Love Affair.
A pair of important reissues are next…
Footprints – The Life and Music of Wayne Shorter – Columbia Legacy (2 discs) C2K 89150, ****:
This stellar compilation is intended to provide an overview of the 50-year career of saxist/composer Wayne Shorter, from his early sessions with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers to his present band. There are tracks recorded with Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, Steely Dan, Joanie Mitchell, Joe Zawinul, Milton Nascimento, Chick Corea, and Gil Evans. The emphasis is on original compositions by Shorter, but some of those by others – such as Steely Dan’s “Aja” are standouts. Each of the 22 tracks is notated as to what album it is from and all the performers involved. There is also a fascinating essay on Shorter’s career. Playing both tenor and soprano sax, he has been a major figure in the development of the saxophone post-Charlie Parker. Miles Davis’ band really took fire the moment Shorter became part of it. His original compositions meld many different influences – including Latin jazz and European – and his settings have been for both acoustic and thoroughly electric ensembles such as the highly popular Weather Report. My favorite tracks of the bunch were the title track (with Miles), the quirky Gil Evans Time of the Barracudas, and of course Shorter’s classic solo from Steely Dan’s Aja – my personal favorite rock album after Sgt. Pepper. By the way, the remastering of all these materials – many sourced from other record labels – is consistently superb.
Tracks: Lester Left Town, Speak No Evil, Infant Eyes, Time of the Barracudas, E.S.P., Footprints, Nefertiti, Sanctuary, Mysterious Traveller, Lusitanos, Elegant People, Palladium, Ponta De Areia, Aja, The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines, The Three Marias, Mahogany Bird, Joy Ryder, Children of the Night, In Walked Wayne, Aung San Suu Kyi, Masquelero (live version).
The Symphonic Ellington – Duke’s Orchestra plus 500 musicians of the symphony and opera orchestras of Paris, Hamburg, Stockholm and La Scala – Milan – Collectables COL-CD-6731 ****:
Well, not all at once, OK? The 500 is just a total of how many players were involved overall in the making of this album, and even that sounds like a bit of exaggeration. If there are four orchestras, that means each one had 125 players – very unlikely, especially for an opera orchestra. Anyway, the sound is big and I’m a pushover for anything mixing jazz bands and symphonic players, even when it doesn’t pan out very well. This project started with Ellington being commissioned by the delightful American composer Don Gillis to write a symphonic piece involving the Ellington Band and The Symphony of the Air. The three-movement Night Creature was the result. It has a typical Ellington tongue-in-cheek hip story line. The first two movements here were recorded in Stockholm and the third in Paris. The next track, Non-Violent Integration – was composed for an Ellington Band appearance with the Philadelphia orchestra. The recorded version was made with the Hamburg Symphony. Track 5 – La Scala She Too Pretty to be Blue – came from another Ellington spur-of-the-moment composing effort when the band was in Milan. He found they only could get two hours with the La Scala Opera orchestra, so he quickly penned a piece that would take as little rehearsal as possible before recording. The CD comes to a rousing close with Harlem – commissioned by Toscanini and the NBC Symphony in l950; it’s back to Paris for this recording session. The note booklet is by jazz writer Stanley Dance.
The Symphonic Ellington has been reissued almost as many times as Kind of Blue. It started life as a Reprise LP. I believe Reprise later issued a CD of it, then dropped it and Trend Records reissued it. Later yet Discovery Records picked it up and when listening to their CD I recall wishing I still had the original LP because I was sure it sounded lots better. An A/B comparison of the Discovery and the new Collectibles CD reveals I was certainly right. There’s a huge improvement in sonics over the Discovery disc – mainly because it was mono and the Collectibles is in stereo! Now we have a gorgeous rich and widely-spaced soundstage with Ellington’s piano on the left. It really does sound symphony now! If you have trouble locating this one, try www.oldies.com
– Above reviews by John Henry