Thursday, December 1, 2011

Instrumental CD of the Month - "Frank Herzberg Trio: Handmade"

Instrumental CD of the Month
Frank Herzberg Trio: "Handmade" (FH) 2011

***** (musical performance & sonic quality)

Produced & Engineered by Frank Herzberg
Recorded on November 26 & 27, 2010
Total Time 57:17

Arguably the best jazz album of the year, "Handmade" was conceived, engineered & self-produced by the great São Paulo-based German bassist Frank Herzberg. Everything is impressive: the original material, the arrangements, the bright sound quality, the pristine mastering. And, specially, the soulful performances by this cohesive trio of giants: Herzberg on acoustic bass, Alexandre Zamith on acoustic piano & Rhodes, and Zé Eduardo Nazário on drums.

"Handmade" transcends any categorization. It's better and more creative than anything currently marketed as "contemporary jazz" in the USA and Europe. It's better and more creative than anything labeled as "instrumental Brazilian music" (argh!) or "Brazilian jazz." It defies limits, because this is music created by blessed souls, not simple musicians. They deliver a spiritual message through music, and they talk an universal language. There's a bit of Brazil, there's a lot of jazz, but above all there's originality everywhere. It's really a massive and challenging set, completely unpredictable, combining density and intensity in the highest possible level.

The expressiviness of Herzberg's use of the arco bass in the opening track, "Don't Talk Crazy," is just the first strong feeling the listener shall be prepared to experience. In the same tune, Nazário's extraordinary solo displays his stature as one of the world's top jazz drummers, in the same level of Roy Haynes, Jack DeJohnette and Chris Dave. The leader is a virtuoso, but he never shows off, remembering me of Richard Davis and Buster Williams. The keyboardist is a young master, Brazil's equivalent to Robert Glasper.

"A Xepa," composed by Nazário back in 1976, when he was a member of Hermeto Pascoal's band, reflects a time when Brazilian music was evolving so much that I believed it could conquer the world through Hermeto, Airto, Egberto Gismonti, Sivuca & Co. It's rhythmically a "baião," with its melody played by Zamith on Rhodes, and Nazário's performance evokes memories of one of his idols, our late friend Dom Um Romão.

"Mil Saudades," a haunting ballad, follows, with the leader using both arco and pizzicato. The interaction between Herzberg and Zamith is amazing, specially during a written section before the bass and piano improvisations. A very subtle samba-jazz comes to the surface, completing the trip. Zamith's "Lorca" seems more quiet in the beginning, but the mood changes as Herzberg's stunning arco work takes the tune to another dimension.

Zamith returns to the Rhodes on the funky-flavoured "Too Much, Charlie." The crystalline sound of Nazário's cymbals and hi-hat is schocking, combined with a killer bass-drum pulsation. And he starts the next track, appropriately titled "The Drums," in a trance. That's the first of four movements of a suite for jazz trio. Then comes "The Bass," on which the leader displays his tremendous dexterity (amplified by a fat & warm bass sound), followed by "The Piano," a lyrical voyage with Nazário's brushwork in an intimate dialogue with Zamith's long lines a la Chick Corea. The eagles land on "The Trio," defined by Herzberg as an "up-tempo minor blues." That's what comes closer to "mainstream jazz" in the album, once again allowing Nazário the chance to showcase his versatilty and complete command of the drumset. But words are not enough to describe the cathartic experience this CD provides. Try for yourself.
The CD liner notes:

Coming to Brazil 14 years ago was a kind of adventure that I expected to last only a couple of years. But private plans and destiny very often do not agree with each other. Now I'm married to my beautiful wife Marta, have three great kids: Stefan, Luisa and Clara, and I have met many marvelous people here. I am lucky to play with many of the very best Brazilian musicians and I’ve been learning a great variety of new musical styles and ways to play. Zé Eduardo Nazario and Alexandre Zamith became my partners almost 10 years ago and we continue to find opportunities to maintain our musical and personal friendship. I'm very pleased we managed to document some of the artistic material we've created during these years. Here are some comments about the music . . .

1) Don't Talk Crazy - I wrote this for a friend who is obsessed with the end of the world. The melody is in 5/4 and it stays in this meter on the B section where drums and bass do a metrical displacement.

2) A Xepa - Zé Eduardo Nazario wrote this song in 1976 when he was in Hermeto Pascoal’s band. He composed the melody on a bamboo flute used in the Northeast of Brazil. The song uses a typical rhythm from the Northeast area, Baião – but Zé put his personal stamp on the tune by arranging it for jazz instruments. A Xepa, translated from Brazilian Portuguese, means "our daily bread."

3) Mil Saudades - is dedicated to my mum and my friend Jens Thurow who left us too early.

4) Lorca - Alexandre Zamith wrote this tune as homage to the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. The melody unfolds over a series of odd-meter combinations, mostly 6/8 and 7/8. In the improvisational section, the grouping of 6/8 and 7/8 totals a measure of 13/8.

5) Too Much, Charlie – The title of this song comes from an expression used often by Charlie Banacos during our lessons. Charlie was a legendary teacher in the Boston area and I had the privilege of studying with him for almost 5 years. He passed too soon, and I miss him a lot.

6 - 9) Suite For Jazz Trio "Twelve Bars Down The Road I Met You” – is dedicated to my wife Marta. We met at Berklee College of Music and played a lot of blues together. The entire suite is comprised of 4 movements. All of the movements are based in some way on the blues, although sometimes the connection is loose and/or very re-harmonized.

6) The Drums The first movement features the drum set by starting off with a solo and concludes with a bass melody and counterpoint based on a 12-tone row. My idea was 12 tones = 12 bars = blues.

7) The Bass – This movement is a feature for the upright bass in medium tempo with lots of double-stops. Although this is the most typical blues composition in the suite, the melody is actually 13 measures long.

8) The Piano – This movement is a very re-harmonized bluesy ballad in 3/4 meter. I particularly enjoy the impressionistic intro that Alexandre created. The last four chords of the form extend for free playing.

9) The Trio – This movement concludes the suite and is an up-tempo minor blues that features all 3 musicians. It ends on a G7sus chord, a dominant chord, which leaves everything open…
- Frank Herzberg, São Paulo, Brazil 1st of September, 2011
It is my great pleasure to write a few words about the recording at hand. It is a product of the long-time artistic collaboration of three unique and special musicians. Each brings a lifetime of devotion and musical growth to their joint effort.

Alexandre Zamith holds a Doctorate in Classical Performance and loves to combine elements of jazz and contemporary classical performance. He inserts impressionistic flavors into his music, quoting Brazilian composers like Villa Lobos and Guerra Peixe (in A Xepa for instance), and is fusing his musical interests into a unique personal style.

Zé Eduardo Nazario has played with a veritable “who’s who” of great Brazilian musicians, has accompanied international stars touring in his country, and has travelled widely. He has acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of Brazilian rhythms and music styles, and delved deeply into Jazz, African, and Indian musical cultures. Both sensitive and powerful, Zé Eduardo has a wonderful, creative musical imagination.

Frank Herzberg is a native Berliner and an adopted Brazilian. He is old-world conservatory trained, has absorbed contemporary improvisation techniques at Berklee College of Music and with other legendary teachers in Boston, and is now knee-deep in the vast and fascinating Brazilian musical universe. Frank is organized, flexible, and loyal.

These are the musicians who have created the recording Handmade. An honest name, I think, Handmade – hands on keys, hands holding bows and pulling strings, hands using sticks to strike skins and cymbals.

This is music made by hand, with intention, devotion, and sweat. The ingredients acquired through life-long study, then added, subtracted, mixed, blended, refined, and aged like fine wine in special barrels until the right moment. Now is the time to taste the wine. Enjoy!
- John Stein, Boston, USA 1st of September, 2011

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