World Music Pushes The Boundaries Of Jazz

Samuel Torres
Samuel Torres

Samuel Torres Group – Forced Displacement

Zoho Records –

Samuel Torres, congas; Michael Rodriquez, trumpet and flugelhorn; Yosvany Terry, alto and soprano saxophone; Marshall Gilkes, trombone; Luis Perdomo, piano; Rickey Rodriquez, acoustic bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; Jonathan Gomez, Columbian percussion/ tambor alegre/tambora costena/maracon/tambor llamador/calabaza; Samuel Torres, Marshall Gilkes, Obed Calvaire & Edmar Castaneda, hand claps.

From the moment the first cut of this CD plays, I am captivated by the haunting and prevalent percussion, including Samuel Torres’ masterful introduction on congas. “Overture” sets the stage for a lavishly produced musical package of world music. It was inspired when Samuel Torres was awarded a “New Jazz Works Grant” by Chamber Music America in 2012. With such a great honor bestowed, Colombian-born percussionist, Torres decided to write a 10-movement suite of music addressing the political situation in his native country.

I decided to write a piece dedicated to the victims of violence in Colombia caused by the ongoing conflict between guerrillas, paramilitary groups and the national army, especially in the Afro-Colombian community…”

The results is a memorable and powerful work of art, with songs echoing Bullerengue, a traditional Columbia form of music with roots that can be traced back to Africa. His band is a mixture of cultures, each bringing their own mastery on a variety of instruments. I was particularly impressed with Venezuelan pianist, Luis Perdomo. His solos on this recording leap out at me like a bright, green laser beam. On “Las Canta ‘Oras” translating to ‘The Female Singers’ each horn player takes an opportunity to introduce themselves to us in a most impressive way. The entire project is full of energy and spark. Perhaps Torres describes it best when he talks about his composition, “El Silencio Desplazador” or (Displacing Silence). He reflects on something Afro-Columbian master, Emilsen Pacheco, told him.

“…Black people are noisy. We play drums. We play our music loud. And in our community, that’s an invitation. It’s not to bother my neighbor, it’s to invite my neighbor to my house and share with him. When intruders came here, the first thing they do is to silence us, so that now you cannot sing; now you cannot play music loud. That’s how the community began to get displaced and disbursed .. through silence.”

Here is an album of protest and pride, prepared by a culturally rich band of men; Perdomo from Venezuela, Yosvany Terry, a Cuban saxophonist and Columbian percussionists Jonathan Gomez and Torres himself. The other musicians are American-born, but I imagine their roots and DNA run deeply all over the globe, like most Americans. The release date for this piece of musical art was July 10, 2015.

Albare – Only Human

Alfi Records

Albare, guitars; Axel Tosca Laugart, piano; Yunior Terry, bass; Pablo Bencid, drums; Phil Turcio, piano (on Hotel Royal only).

I must admit, in the stack of CDs I receive to review, I was attracted to the cover of this particular one. There are a multitude of squares, each picturing the photograph of a specific culture. The squares are full of people faces, mostly smiling and looking approachable. It made me wonder what an album titled, “Only Human” would sound like. Kudos to the album cover designer, who is not mentioned on this CD. The artist, Albare, was born in Morocco, grew up in Israel and France before settling in Australia at age 27. His groove on the guitar sets up the first tune in a Smooth-Jazz kind-of-way. However, as soon as Axel Tosca Laugart, (with his shocking blond afro) takes to the keys, he establishes that this album is far more than a groove. He’s prolific on the piano and lifts me with his straight-ahead feel. Bassist, Yunior Terry is Cuban and his father was a member of Maravillas de Florida, one of Cuba’s legendary Charanga groups and the drummer, Pablo Bencki was born in Caracas, Venezuela. He studied in Boston at Berklee College of Music and now lives in New York. On the title tune, second cut on this album, someone surprises me with a rap. They too are not given credit on the album linear notes. Unfortunately, I feel this cut is poorly mixed, burying the message in the music. I would like to have heard the rap more clearly. Still, the composition celebrates the concept of this album; that we are all human beings from different geographic locations, connected and unified as a multicultural cornucopia of humanity. Albare has composed or co-composed all the songs. Like the dream of a planet without borders, this is a musical concept along the same lines.

Nicole – Raizes/Roots

Soundbrush Records

Nicole, vocals; Pablo Aslan, acoustic bass; Cyro Baptista, percussion/vocals; Rob Curto, accordion; Paul Meyers, nylon string guitar; Brandon Seabrook, mandolin and electric guitars. Special Guests: Lorin Sklamberg, vocals; Isra-Allen,Oren Neiman,Gilad Ben Zvi, guitars; Renato Thoms, percussion; Michael Winograd, clarinet; Jake Shulman-Ment, violin; Frank London, trumpet and Wurlitzer piano; Danny Blume, electric bass.

This unique piece of music presents Jewish compositions re-imagined as Brazilian songs. It’s highly creative in both concept and production. Congratulations to Frank Londo who produced and arranged this intriguing work of art. Nicole’s sultry vocals hover beautifully above Paul Meyers nylon string guitar, the mandolins, accordions, electric guitars and a pleathera of percussion. Her first cut is called, “Com Saude” but it’s actually a remake of the Yiddish standard, “Abi Gezunt” written for a 1938 film called, “Mamele.”

As a child, music was Nicole’s passion but her parents discouraged such a career and pushed her to study law. She graduated, married, started a family and became one of the first women partners in a Brazilian Big 8 Multinational auditing firm. But it took her fifteen years to get back to her music. One day she joined a choir in Sao Paulo, Brazil where she worked. At age forty, she eventually went back to school for a degree in composition. She also underscored her commitment to preserving and promoting Jewish music and Nicole uses music as a symbol for peace and co-existence among people. She also co-founded the first international festival of Klezmer and Jewish music in Brazil. Since 2010, it’s become a popular, annual event.

Chris Washburne & The Syotos Band – Low Ridin

Chris Washburne, trombone/tuba; John Walsh, trumpet/flugelhorn; Ole Mathisen, saxophones; Yeissonn Villamar, piano/keyboards; Leo Traversa, bass; Vince Cherico, drums/percussion; Oreste Abrantes & Roberto Quintero & Isa Washburne, percussion; August Washburne, elec. Guitar.

The very first cut on this CD is a party for my ears. It has all the components of a celebration, including tight horn arrangements, excellent musicianship and an exciting, up-tempo song called, “Feelin’ Alright.” I was feeling alright after listening to this very first Latin flavored tune played by Chris Washburne’s smoking, hot Syotos Band. This cut is followed by the 1980’s hit song “Low Rider,” made popular by the group War. Washburne on trombone is impressive. Yeissonn Villamar adds some very memorable piano solos throughout this album of well arranged music. I especially enjoyed the diversity of the arrangements, embracing everything from Reggae music, (Bob Marleys “Get Up, Stand Up”) to old pop standards like “Walk on the Wild Side”, once made tremendously popular by the late, great organ player, Jimmy Smith. Here is a mixture of funk, pop and R&B songs arranged in a jazzy way. Washbourne has surrounded himself with talented band members who support his concept more than adequately and he also brings a new appreciation to the tuba and trombone as featured instruments in jazz.

Phill Fest – That’s What She Says


Fest Productions

Phill Fest, guitars & vocals; Robert Prester & Dale Powers, piano; Russ Howard, bass; Ronie Martinez, drums; Carlomagno Araya, drums; Jacque Medeiros & Terezinha Valois, vocals; Jonathan Sigel, trumpet & flugelhorn; Andy & Jack Potter, percussion & special guest Hendrik Muerkens, harmonica.

This is an easy listening album of Brazilian/Portuguese music, some composed by the artist Phill Fest and others by such well known and respected composers as Jobim; ie:“Triste.” With the addition of choral voices and Meurkens’ harmonica, Fest pleasantly fuses jazz harmony, Brazilian rhythms and Latin culture. Fest’s classical training is prominent and especially engaging in his solo presentation of “Choro No. 1.”

The Dave Miller Trio With Rebecca Dumaine – The Consequence Of You

Summit Records

Rebecca Dumaine, vocals; Dave Miller, piano; Mario Suraci, bass; Bill Belasco, drums; Brad Buethe, guitar.

From the very first entry of her vocals, Rebecca Dumaine establishes that she can ‘Swing’. The arrangement on “Beautiful Love” begins with Bill Belasco’s drum solo. Dumaine’s vocal floats distinctly atop the percussion like oil on water; shiny and sparkling in the scarcity of other instrumentation. When the rest of the band enters, I am surprised to discover the accompanying trio is actually a quartet. There’s a very strong guitar solo by Brad Buethe. However on the next tune we are back to the trio concept featuring leader, Dave Miller, on piano. On “One Note Samba” the strumming guitar is back. Now I’m confused. Perhaps the CD should have been called “The Dave Miller Ensemble”. I don’t see the guitarists’ name on the CD cover, but upon inquisitive inspection, his photo is clearly pictured on the inside cover. Buethe is definitely present and laying down his talent with gusto. All in all, the music is well performed and the CD repertoire offers some familiar standards. “Exactly Like You” proffers an unusual arrangement that’s catchy and unique, with piano chords moving down the keyboard in a classical Baroque style. “Pure Imagination,” a newer standard snatched from the motion picture track of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is pleasantly performed. Harold Arlen’s “Down With Love” is competently arranged as an up-tempo, swing number and “You’ve Changed” is featured as a duet with piano and voice comfortably complimenting each other one time down, with the band entering the second time around. Dave Miller and Dumaine have a warmth and familiarity on this, their third recording. It may be, in part, because they are father and daughter and she grew up singing songs her dad loves to play.

Denny Zeitlin & George Marsh – Riding The Moment

Sunnyside Communications – SSC 1408

Denny Zeitlin: Acoustic piano/hardware & virtual synthesizers/keyboards; George Marsh, drums/percussion.

This music should be the score behind a motion picture or a television drama. The first thing I think is, “Damn, well done!” If I hadn’t been told, I’d think an entire ensemble was playing this original music. But it’s only the two of them and their electronic gizmos and percussive instruments; two musicians who sound like an entire band is just plain weird and genius, all wrapped up in one creative CD package. All I can say is, gentlemen, find a licensing company and have them shop this music for film and television.

Sunnyside Records Sample – “Back On The Horse”

John Ehlis – In This Lifetime

Sivac Records

John Ehlis, acoustic guitar, mandolin & bamboo flute; Sylvain Leroux, flute/tambin& chromatic tambin; Sana Nagano, violin/vocals; Eloisa Manera, violin; Amalia Lopez Chueca, cello; Mikko Innanen, alto & baritone saxophones; Yasuno Katsuki, euphonium; Karl Berger, piano & vibraphone; Max Johnson, bass; Kresten Osgood, drums; Chris White III, drums/percussion; Glen Fittin, percussion.

Ehlis offers a mystical sound and an imaginative mixing of unique instrumentation on this, his fourth CD. It sounds as though he tends to work towards establishing a groove and then improvising on that theme, rather than having specific arrangements. Most of his talent is shown in exploration of his acoustic guitar and on the mandolin, although he does also play the bamboo flute on a cut called, “Water Hawk”. There is mention of an instrument called ‘Tambin’ that Ehlis says was invented and performed by band mate, Sylvain Leroux. It should be mentioned that this instrument is modeled after the Tambin that is actually a traditional flute from Guinea. Ehlis obviously enjoys simplicity in his production, often only featuring himself on guitar with violin, or with only a cello and percussionist added. Of course this allows the melody of his original compositions to hover prominently, but does not always make for an exciting presentation. There is a strong feeling of Asian influence in his compositions. On “Shine” and “Dream of the Canary”, there is a hint of folk music, as the underlying melody is sung by the nylon strings of his acoustic guitar. “Lotus Days” adds a baritone saxophone to the mix. That brings another texture to the music and surprisingly reminds me of Ornette Coleman in some aesthetic way. I notice that there is a song titled “Ornette” that features the first recording of Leroux’s chromatic Tambin. Ehlis seems to dance on the peripheral outer edge of his music, with no thick bass to ground it. Often, so much freedom in the playing can make you easily forget about a melody and the entire piece becomes a symphony of comfortable background music. For a composer who prides himself in writing music, I’m not certain if this is good or bad. Ehlis describes his music by saying:

It encompasses all of the experiences we have when we attain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world we live in …It’s my reflection of what these artists and these sessions represent and the wondrous people, places and experiences we encounter as we travel in time, through this life together.”

Don Aliquo/Clay Jenkins Quintet – New Ties And Binds

Don Aliquo Clay Jenkins New Ties and Binds-300px-1

Independent Label

Clay Jenkins, trumpet; Don Aliquo, tenor saxophone; Harold Danko, piano; Rufus Reid, bass; Jim White, drums

If you love straight-ahead, no nonsense jazz, this recording is all that and more. I knew when I put this CD on for the fourth time that I was hooked. The musicality and harmonic horn arrangements are formidable right off the bat on Don Aliquo’s composition, “New Ties.” Clay Jenkins on trumpet and Aliquo on tenor saxophone represent the perfect blend and spice up the music on the intro of this song, interspersing their horn brilliance with busy bass, piano and drum interludes. This entire ensemble is a tight knit unit of jazz excellence. Jim White on drums propels them with unalterable energy and Rufus Reid is creative, exploratory and always locked into the rhythm, secure as a Brinks armored truck. The compositions on this CD are the products of all band members, singularly contributing their own music to the richness of this project. I am enamored and illuminated by their musical art.

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