|Photo: Anna Yatskevich|
Tenor saxophonist and composer Julieta Eugenio
was born, raised, and educated in Argentina. After graduating from the Manuel de Falla Conservatory, Ms. Eugenio came to the United States in 2013 to study at the Aaron Copland Conservatory at Queens College in New York City where she earned her Master's degree. She's gone on to play with pianists David Kikoski and Johnny O'Neal, drummer Leon Parker, with the SIJ Trio, and the Eyal Viner Big Band. Along the way, the saxophonist met bassist Matt Dwonszyk
who introduced her to drummer Jonathan Barber
––the rhythm section are both from Hartford, CT. In the beginning of the pandemic, the bassist invited Ms. Eugenio to come to the Hartford to get away from the big city. They hiked the hills and parks around Connecticut's capitol city and, in the evenings, jammed with the drummer, giving birth to her Trio and her debut album.
" (Greenleaf Music) is the album. The hour-long program features eight originals from the leader plus two standards "Flamingo
" (composed by Ted Grouya and Edmund Aderson, first recorded by Herb Jeffries and the Duke Ellington Orchestra in December of 1940) and "Crazy He Calls Me
" (penned by Carl Sigman and Bob Russell in 1949, recored by numerous people including Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington). Ms. Eugenio is well-served by her rhythm section––both Dwonszyk and Barber are totally involved in the music, pushing, prodding, being both melodic and propulsive. It's notable from the opening seconds of the first track as both the well-constructed melody and the percussive attack stand out. The bassist's counterpoint is on-point while the drummer dances with glee as Ms. Eugenio's solo unfolds.
There are moments when this Trio will remind the listener of the work that Sonny Rollins did in the 1950s with bassist Wilbur Ware and drummers Elvin Jones or Pete LaRoca ("A Night at The Village Vanguard
")––check out the ballad "For You
" or the fun take of the classic "Flamingo
" (the rhythm section is a true treat!) Pieces such as the high-powered "La Jungla
" sound more modern (pay attention to the depth of Ms. Eugenio's tone) or the slinky drive of "Another Bliss
" (Barber's drum work stands out for his inventive support while Dwonszyk's bass work sings under the sax solo.) The bassist's "fat" tone and buoyant lines lead Ms. Eugenio in on "Crazy...
" and the two stroll through the piece together without Barber. The bass solo is a particular treat, especially for its musicality.
" is a splendid debut for Julieta Eugenio
laying the groundwork for a career that one hopes is filled with delightful music and interactions. She's absorbed her lessons and now needs to hit the road which should make her music stronger and help her make her musical voice more singular. Yet, what a great start!
Hear "La Jungla":
A new album from vocalist Somi is always a welcome audio adventure. Born in Illinois to parents who emigrated to the US from Rwanda and Uganda, Somi first came to critical notice with her 2007 debut "Red Soil In My Eyes", an album which featured her fascinating voice with Afro-Beat, Afro-Pop, and more, reminding some reviewers of the music of Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel. Somi spend 18 months in Nigeria which led to 2014's "The Lagos Music Salon", an album that still sounds fresh with its blend of jazz, r'n'b, African rhythms, and spoken-word intervals. Social commentary, Hip Hop, funk, and American pop music entered her music with the 2017 release of "Petite Afrique" while 2020's "Holy Room: Live at Alte Oper with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band" stands out for her ability to adapt all her musical influences with a large ensemble.
March 4, 2022, was the 90th birth anniversary of the international star Miriam Makeba and also the day that Somi released "Zenzile
" (Salon Africana), her tribute to the great singer. The recording takes its name from Ms. Makeba's first name (pronounced "Zen-zee-lay") and its material is taken from the varied segments of her career. Pieces such as "Pata Pata
" were huge hits yet Somi's version uses the song as a vehicle for a recorded interview with Ms. Makeba with only a string quartet for support. The vocal portion features four singers plus Somi and is filled with sounds and silence. Ms. Makeba first recorded "Mbombela (Train Song)
" with Harry Belafonte in 1965 in New York City––Somi's danceable take features the voice choir plus a funky band (check out the delightful organ work of Cobhams Asuquo and guitar of Herve Samb). Angelique Kidjo
joins the leader on "JIKELE MAWENI (The Retreat Song)
" as do more voices, a horn section, and a lively rhythm section.
There are so many highlights (and no weak moments) in the 17-song program. Click below to hear Somi with Ladysmith Black Mambazo
in a faithful recreation of "Nonqonqo
", also from the 1965 album Ms. Makeba made with Belafonte. Gregory Porter
joins the vocalist on "Strawberries
", a song from Ms. Makeba's 1962 album "The Many Voices of Miriam Makeba
"––on the modern version, the voices ride atop a piano-bass-drums-percussion quartet plus the the occasional female chorus. The music is so sensual, the lyrics evocative of a warm summer night. Somi's magnificent, emotionally-rich, vocal on "Khuluma"
is stunning. She's joined by South African vocalist Msaki
; their voices wind around each other plus there is a power in their that makes one sit up and pay attention.
" closes with "Mabhongo
", a song from Ms. Makeba's 1988 album "Sangoma
" (a return to recording for the singer). With choruses of male and female voices for support plus the plaintive piano of Ndudozo Mahkathnini
, the song opens like a prayer and, as Somi and the pianist step to the fore, the music displays a gentle beauty that touches the heart and the soul.
"Zenzile" is a stunning accomplishment as it brings the music of and the person who was Miriam Makeba to life once again. The messages in her songs are timeless and Somi makes sure you hear the rhythms and word––you need to hear both, you need to take the messages inside and don't let it go. In this time of forced migrations and totalitarian attacks, there is hope, sadness, love, joy, and positivity in this music. Pay attention!
Up in the right-hand corner of this (and all) columns is a link to "The Jazz Session"––in Episode #589, host Nicky Schrire converses with Somi and you will learn a lot about the album as well as the production of "Dreaming Zenzile" that Somi created and premiered before the pandemic (2019) that is scheduled to open Off-Broadway later this year.
Here's Somi with Ladysmith Black Mambazo on "Nonqonqo":
Special guests include Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Angelique Kidjo, Gregory Porter, Seun Kuti, Thandsiwa Maswai, Msaki, Nduduzo Mhakathini
Herve Samb (guitars)
Nate Smith (drums)
Michael Olatuja (bass)
Keith Witty (bass, percussion)
Toru Dodo (piano)
Mino Cinelu (percussion)
Cobhams Asuquo (organ, upright piano, percussion)
Phindi Wilson (vocal chorus)
Bongi Duma (vocal chorus)
Nhalanhla Ngobeni (vocal chorus)
Vuyo Sotashe (vocal chorus)
Lakecia Benjamin (alto saxophone)
Jeremy Pelt (trumpet)
Myron Walden (soprano saxophone & tenor saxophone)
Mazz Swift (violin 1)
Juliette Jones (violin 2)
Jessica Troy (viola)
Marika Hughes (cello)