Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Splendid Shades of Havana and Argentina

It's very easy for one to be drawn into "FÉ...Faith", the new solo piano CD from Cuban expatriate Gonzalo Rubalcaba and the debut release on his 5Pasion label.  The opening 2 tracks, "Derivado 1" (:31 seconds) and "Maferefun lya Lodde Me (7:02), sound more like the work of Erik Satie than the fiery path that the pianist often takes.  That's the joy of this 79-minute program; the tracks are, more often than not, contemplations and/or mood experiments.  There are 2 versions of Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" (labeled "1" and "3"), both with powerful openings that lead to quiet improvisations.  "Blue in Green 1" (the number must allude to the take) is a slow journey that pays homage to the romantic side of Bill Evans.  There are several really lovely classically-inspired pieces, such as "Joan", a long work that will remind some of Brad Mehldau's ruminations, especially as it moves into the long improvisation. Rubalcaba also pays tribute to the 20th Century Cuban composer Alejandro Garcia Caturla (1906-1940) with a handsome as well as forceful reading of his "Preludio Corto #2."

What's happily absent from this recording is pomposity, technical bravado and other grandiose gestures. For that reason, some may ignore this CD.  I say, sit quietly, pour a glass of cold water, iced tea or chilled rosé and let this music transport you beyond the mundane.  For more information, go to www.g-rubalcaba.com.

Flautist-soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett and pianist Hilario Duran delve into the Classic Songbook on "Cuban Rhapsody" (ALMA Records).  Though the program was recorded in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the music is, as the title implies, 100% Cuban.  The CD cover shows the musicians dancing and there are several pieces that have "Danza" in the title. The playfulness of works such as Ernesto Lacouna's "Danza Lacumi" and the only original on the recording, Duran's "New Danzón" are irresistible, the latter featuring Ms. Bunnett's rich flute floating over the multi-sectioned melody.  Then, there's the 5-part "Contradanzas", the first 3 composed by Manuel Saumell (1818-1870), the 4th, "Los Tres Golpos" ("The Three Bears")  by Ignacio Cervantes and arranged by Israel "Cachao" Lopes) and "Tarde En la Habana" by the contemporary Cuban composer Jose Maria Vitier. The songs move from European-inspired melodies to bouncy, rhythmical, dances, filled with splendid interplay.  The CD opens with 2 works composed by Miguel Matamoros (1894-1971), the lovely ballad "Lagrimas Negras" ("Black Tears") and the more frolicsome "Son de la Loma."  Ms. Bunnett's soprano work is quite striking on the former and her delightful flute work meshes well with the finely articulated and quite percussive piano of Duran.

Excellently recorded and handsomely packaged, "Cuban Rhapsody" gives the listener a captivating glimpse of a proud, creative, people who expressed myriad emotions through their music.  Both Ms. Bunnett and Mr. Duran play with fire, delicacy and emotion throughout.  For more information (including live dates), go to www.almarecords.com/artist.php?id=33

Argentinian-born composer/bassist Pedro Giraudo came to the United States in 1996. He has worked continuously since his arrival, performing and./or recording with such artists as Pablo Ziegler, Paquito D'Rivera, Ruben Blades, Branford Marsalis, and Miguel Zenon (among many others.)  He, also, leads the Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra and, with that aggregation, has just issued "Córdoba"It's the 12-piece ensemble's 3rd release and first for the ZOHO label. 

It's an impressive lineup. There are people who work or have worked with Darcy James Argue's Secret Society (trombonist Mike Fahie and trumpeter Jonathan Powell), the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (trombonist Ryan Keberle and trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt) and Orrin Evans' Captain Black Big Band (saxophonist Todd Bashore and Greenblatt.)  The rhythm section includes the drummer Jeff Davis and the cajon of Tony De Vivo plus the fine piano playing of Jess Jurkovic.  Other members include saxophonists Will Vinson, Luke Batson and Carl Maraghi.  Giraudo has shaped a program that deftly takes the sounds of Astor Piazzolla, Duke Ellington, Maria Schneider and traditional music of Giraudo's homeland and creates a handsome aural journey back to his youth as well as dreams for a brighter future. He writes fine melodies and then crafts sectional arrangements that utilize all the voices.  Hear how the saxophones swoop around the brass in the opening sections of "Visitas", the first cut. Their sound hearkens back to the style of Glenn Miller Orchestra while the music is quite contemporary (especially Davis's propulsive drumming that never overwhelms the band or the soloists.)

Among the many highlights is the 3-part "Pueblo" which, in its nearly 22-minute span, takes the listener through a busy day in rural Argentina.   There are folk melodies, traditional rhythmic patterns, more fine drumming and ensemble work and closing with a strong "modern" feel. "Duende del Mate" ("The Dwarf of the Mate") features the leader on electric bass, a sprightly rising melody line and a smaller lineup (no trombones.)  Both the trumpet and alto saxophone solos excite the senses plus there is a short solo for De Vivo's cajon with just Davis and Giraudo for support. The lovely melody and  arrangement for "Latente" ("Dormant") has the feel of a Maria Schneider composition  - one also hears the influence in the soaring soprano sax line, in the way the melody moves around the sections and in Davis's driving yet sympathetic drumming.  

"Córdoba" is the latest installment in the growing repertoire of Pedro Giraudo. The music, bright, emotionally satisfying and mature,is filled with exciting solos, thoughtful melodies and fine harmonies.  2011 is proving to be another banner year for large ensemble recordings and Pedro Giraudo's CD is among the best.  For more information, go to www.pedrogiraudo.com

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