Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Give Us Liberty! Give Us Tom!

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the career of guitarist and composer Liberty Ellman that it's been 9 years since his last recording as a leader, "Opiuchius Butterfly" (Pi Recordings). He's also stayed busying producing, mixing, and/or mastering recordings for artists such as Vijay Iyer & Mike Ladd, Steve Lehman, and Wadada Leo Smith (among others) plus he's a longtime member of Henry Threadgill's Zooid as well as Stephan Crump's Rosetta Trio and Myra Melford's Snowy Egret.

Ellman, born in London, England, and raised in New York City, has been a busy creative artist. He attended college in California and became active in the Bay Area creative music which is where he met, played with and recorded Mr. Iyer and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.  Since returning New York City in 1998, he has been even busier (click here for his bio).

photo by A Karpovich
Liberty Ellman's 3rd Cd as a leader, "Radiate" (Pi) features the rhythm section of Stephan Crump (bass), Jose Davila (tuba, trombone), and Damion Reid (drums) plus a fine front line of Steve Lehman (alto saxophone) and Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet).  Having Davila in the ensemble (as he was on the previous recording) is a link to the guitarist's work in Zooid and some of the pieces will remind listeners of that music, especially in how the musicians interact with the thematic material and each other.  Still, this music builds off Ellman's previous recordings, with cuts such as "Rhinocerisms" and "Supercell" displaying "deep grooves" thanks to the exciting work of Reid, Davila and Crump.  There's more than a touch of saxophonist Steve Coleman's influence on Ellman on these tracks, the fiery give-and-take of Lehman and Finlayson creating a raucous atmosphere along with the guitarist's more electric sound and the "fuzz bass" of Crump.
The slower pieces also have a quiet intensity.  "Furthermore" opens with just electric guitar (with barely audible loops) and drums, slowly adding the other voices, who weave in and out of the guitar phrases.  The piece stays rubato but builds to an impassioned finish with the guitar always in front. "Skeletope" also opens slowly with the guitar, alto sax, trombone, and drums leading the way until the music falls into a gentle yet funky groove. The instruments share the melody, harmonies and counterpoint until Crump steps out with a strong bass solo.One by one, the other instruments drop out, leaving the bassist to close the track and set the pace for the next piece. "Vibrograph" also has a gentle groove to begin with yet picks up in intensity, especially during the guitar and alto saxophone solos. There's a short trio (guitar-bass-drums) track, "Moment Twice", that is an impressive conversation between the musicians.

The album closes with "Enigmatic Runner", replete with electronic drums, overdubbed guitars, and a forceful bass line. The "electronic drums" drop out after the blazing guitar spotlight. Lehman shares his solo space, first with Ellman, then with Finlayson.  Reid really kicks hard on this piece, especially in the solo sections.   His solo, near the end of the track, literally explodes out of the speakers.

"Radiate" is dynamic modern music, played by people who enjoy working together, musicians who push each other, give their all, listen, interact and create quite an auspicious album.  Liberty Ellman, who wrote all the pieces, created the cover and inside art, mixed and mastered the recording, makes music that reflects his myriad interests and influences, welcoming in and challenging listeners.  Great ensemble, great music, and well worth the wait!

For more information, go to www.libertyellman.com.

Antonio Carlos "Tom" Jobim (1927-1984) may be the most famous Brazilian composer of popular music, even now 31 years after his passing. He recorded dozens of Lps in his homeland and abroad, entering the United States market in a big way thanks to his collaborations with Stan Getz, Frank Sinatra, and with Creed Taylor, first on A&M Records, then on the producer's CTI label.

Composer, guitarist and vocalist Vinicius Cantuaria grew up in Rio de Janiero where he first came to fame in the early 1980s when one of his songs was recorded by Caetano Veloso.  He toured with that superstar and also recorded 6 CDs as the leader of O Terco.  He moved to New York City in the mid-90s and immediately fell in with the "downtown crowd" including Laurie Anderson and David Bryne.  He's issued 10 CDs since moving to the US.  For his latest recording, "Vinicius canta Antonio Carlos Jobim" (Song X Jazz/Sunnyside), he recorded the majority of the 13 tracks in Tokyo in November 2013 and the remainder in Rio de Janeiro in May of 2014. There are 10 guest on the album but no more than 3 musicians on any track (Cantuaria goes it alone on 2 cuts.)  Among the highlights is the sparkling acoustic guitar work of Celso Fonseca on the opener "Ligia"and later on "Vivo Sonhando" (his solo is quite lovely). Guitarist Bill Frisell, who has collaborated with Cantauria on several recordings (he returned the favor as a member of the guitarist's "The Intercontinentals" in 2003), also appears on 2 tracks including the delightful uptempo "
Danço Samba" (listen to how Frisell shadows the vocal, playfully reacting to the singer's inflections) as well as the atmospheric "Inútil Paisagem."  The gentle piano work of Ryuichi Sakamoto adds a sweet touch to both "Eu Não Existo Sem Você" and "Por Causa de Você", the latter being one of the highlights of Jobim's recording with Sinatra (who sang in English, translating the title as "Don't Ever Go Away.") The plaintive vocal on the latter track is matched by the somber piano chords.

Ricardo Silveira adds his handsome guitar work to "Garota de Ipanema" (perhaps his most recorded song in English "The Girl From Ipanema.")  What stands out even more is Cantuaria's fine percussion on that track and on the next one, "Felicidade". The leader overdubs hand-held percussion on the latter cut and one hears the bass drum beneath his pleasing rhythm guitar and easy vocal.

Brazilian vocalist Joyce joins Cantuaria on the lovely ballad "Caminhos Cruzados", a track that also the expressive acoustic guitar of Chico Pinheiro (he takes such a fine solo). The other guest vocalist is Melody Gardot, who sings the English on "Insensatez" ("Insensitive").  The overdubbed electric guitar rises out of the vocals (the 2 singers share the verses) and takes the piece out.

Whether one understands the lyrics or not, Tom Jobim's music is wonderfully inviting.  Vinicius Cantuaria does not play tricks by rearranging the songs to where one does not recognize the melodies.  His soothing voice, his pleasing guitar work, smart percussion and excellent use of his fellow musicians and vocalists, all of this makes "Vinicius canta Antonio Carlos Jobim" a real joy to listen to.

To find out more, go to www.vinicius.com.

How about a samba to make you smile?

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