Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Instrumental Jazz CD of the Month - "Astronomico: Bring All Your Ships Home"

Instrumental Jazz CD of the Month
Astronomico: "Bring All Your Ships Home" (self-release) 2019
Rating: **** (musical performance & sonic quality)

Recorded & Mixed by Craig Welsh @ Rear Windown Studios (Brookline, MA)
Mastered by Jeff Lipton & Maria Rice @ Peerless Mastering (Boston, MA)
Cover Photo: Chris Lopes
Design: Bradley Clifford Peterson
Featuring: Nina Ott (piano, organ, keyboards), Chris Lopes (bass, percussion), Jared Seabrook (drums), Steve Fell (guitar)

Astronomico is a composers collective drawing on the diverse musical experiences of its members while maintaining a “wide open, anything goes” approach to music making. Although Astronomico, as a band, has been playing for only a few years, the roots of the band run deep, with its members having played together in various configurations for many years.

Bassist Chris Lopes has been playing, performing, writing and recording music for over three decades. He is adept at straight ahead and free jazz, afro-caribbean, funk and blues, as well as having a wide variety of other-worldly musical expressions.

Chris was an original member of Rob Mazurek’s Chicago Jazz Underground and he has been featured as a multi/instrumentalist and composer on three of Jeff Parker’s trio recordings. Some of his other credits include Ben Goldberg, Mike Patton, Scott Amendola and John Calloway.

Currently, Chris can be heard as a bassist, percussionist and composer with Astronomico, a World Jazz composers and improvisors collective, and has the drummer for Nina Ott’s organ trio, NO3.

“Lopes’s bass works itself deep into the fibre of the music, adding subtle gradations of colour and tone” David Keenan, The Wire
“Plainsong is lithe fancy which whispers sweet nothings in your ear before hiving off in a smoky bar to lay its hooks elsewhere” Tangents.com
“ Lopes’ pieces are some of the most memorable...and are the perfect venue for Parker for demonstrate his abilities as a jazz soloist.” Dusted Magazine

A Boston-based drummer, Jared Seabrook started playing drums at 10, playing live at 14, and has been playing everything from punk rock to jazz ever since. Seabrook spent 10 years studying with Bob Gullotti, as well as benefiting from an extraordinary public music program. He’s since toured around the country and internationally. He is endorsed by Vic Firth, and notable performances include Montreux Jazz Festival, multiple NYC Winter Jazz Fests, George Wein’s Care Fusion Festival, and Lincoln Center, among others. Print features include Downbeat Magazine, UK Wire, Time Out NY, Drumhead Magazine, and Boston Globe, and his original work was featured on a soundtrack for a documentary airing on MTV and MTV2. The New York Times has described his playing as “vicious”, but he’s a pretty nice guy.

Detroit born pianist, organist and composer Nina Ott got her start in Chicago as house pianist in The Green Mill late night jazz session. She has since been a part of the creative music scenes in Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit and Boston. A few musicians Nina has worked with include George Fludas, Ralph Peterson, Mark Turner, Jeff Parker, Vince Chandler, Jared Sims, Leonard King, Marion Hayden and Kenwood Dennard.

For the past decade she has been immersed in Afro-Caribbean music, studying percussion and playing in several Latin Jazz and Salsa bands. Among those Nina has worked with are John Calloway's Latin Collective, Louis Romero y su Mazacote, Jesus Pagan and her own groups including a cajon-based trio Zunzún with percussionist Pepe Espinosa.

Nina leads an organ trio, NO3, which is based in funk, jazz and afro-cuban music. Her husband, Chris Lopes plays drums and percussion in the group. She is currently making a solo piano record dedicated to the late great pianist, Jaki Byard. Nina plays keyboards and writes in Astronomico, a Boston based band which recently released a debut recording.

Guitarist and composer Steve Fell has been active in the Boston music scene since the mid 90’s. Having grown up on a steady diet of eclectic college radio programming and MTV, his musical output has similarly spanned across musical genres and styles, including everything from free jazz, funk, noise, calypso, and psych-rock to west African, straight-ahead jazz, hip-hop, avant metal, dub reggae, Afro Beat and pretty much everything in between.

He has performed world wide at notable venues such as the Montreal Jazz Festival, the Blue Note NYC, the Boston African Festival, the Stone NYC, CBGB’s NYC, Shinjuku Pitt Inn, Tokyo, Discover Jazz Festival, Burlington, VT., among others, and is currently the house guitarist at the historic Wally’s Jazz Cafe Tuesday funk night.

In addition to co-leading Astronomico, he co-leads the forward looking jazz composer’s collective, Clear Audience, and regularly works as a collaborator/sideman with numerous artists and projects in the Boston area. He has been featured on over twenty releases.

Fusion CD of the Month - "Salaberry & Friends: Rhythm of the Spirits"

Fusion CD of the Month
Salaberry & Friends: "Rhythm of the Spirits" (Tratore)
Rating: **** (musical performance & sonic quality)

Produced by Salaberry
Associate Producer: Guilherme Canaes
Cover concept and photos: Salaberry
Cover setup: Roberto Stefanelli
Recorded between January and August 2018

Featuring: Salaberry (drums, percussion, kalimba, voices), Derico Sciotti (flute), Fulvio Oliveira (guitar), Jorge Pescara (electric bass), Fernando Moura (piano), Augusto Mattoso (bass), Chico Wilcox (electric bass), Marcos Romera (keyboards), Chico Wilcox (bass), Sandro Haick (guitar, keyboards, percussion), Ed Cortes (sax), Claudio Rocha (electric bass), Mauricio Marques (keyboards), Flavio Lira (electric bass), Michel Freidenson (keyboards), Mayra Mello (flute), Fernando Molinari (electric bass), Marco Bosco (percussion, samples, beatbox), Chico Martins (electric bass), Tarcisio Edson Cesar (guitar)

On his ambitious 8th solo album, "Rhythm Of The Spirits," renowned São Paulo-born (and currently Miami-based) drummer Roberto Sallaberry, reunited an all-star cast of 20 Brazilian musicians and recorded them in nothing less than 19 different studios. Bass stylist Jorge Pescara shines on his duo number with the leader, "Invocation," while brilliant guitarist Fulvio Oliveira sounds creative and flawless on all his appearances, most notably on "Winds From The East," "Voices" and "Before The Rain." A top class fusion adventure.

Vocal Jazz CD of the Month - "Claudia Villela: Encantada Live"

Vocal Jazz CD of the Month
Claudia Villela: "Encantada Live" (Taina Music)
Rating: **** (musical performance)

Produced by Claudia Villela
Engineered by Celso Alberti
Photos: Maria Camillo
Package Design: Laina Terpstra - LT Design

Featuring: Claudia Villela (voice, piano, percussion), Ricardo Peixoto, Bruce Dunlap and Jeff Buenz (guitar), Kenny Werner (piano), Jasnan Daya Singh (piano, keyboards), Gary Brown (electric bass), Paul Van Wageningen and Celso Alberti (drums), Michael Spiro (percussion), Andy Connel (sax)

Adventurous vocalist-composer Claudia Villela puts her stunning, supple virtuosity on vivid display with the April 12 release of "Encantada Live" on her own Taina Music label. Drawn from several live performances, the album alternates between performances by a septet, a quartet featuring Villela on piano, and intimate duets with various partners. It also includes three of Villela's originals, three interpretations of key Brazilian composers, and three wholly improvised pieces by Villela and her accompanists.

The sweeping panorama of "Encantada Live" -- only her sixth recording in a 40-year career -- is the direct result of a near-death experience in December 2017. While visiting Rio de Janeiro, Villela escaped from a terrifying electrical fire in her own apartment. Her own injuries were fairly minor, but the fire devastated her home, many keepsakes, and the masters of an album she'd been working on for two years.

"It left with me with a deeper recognition of the preciousness of time. It's time to really live in the moment and move on," Villela says. "I want to put everything out. I'm not going to hold it back. This is a cathartic album."

Whether by coincidence or fate, it's also an album that showcases everything that she can do. The opening "Cuscus" alone demonstrates Villela's enormous range and imagination, modulating from a guttural growl to a soprano squeak and inventing in the moment both a melody (with guitarist Bruce Dunlap, whose artistry I admired for the first time on Bob James' "H" album) and a fully developed Portuguese lyric. The same duo creates a warm, introspective ballad on the closing "Em Paz." The nearly 15-minute "Minas" is an exquisite but multifaceted improvisation with Villela's longtime collaborator, pianist Kenny Werner.
However, "Encantada Live" also places her remarkable abilities into the context of compositional form. Villela proffers a short, wordless adaptation (with guitarist Peixoto) of 20th-century Brazilian classical composer Heitor Villa-Lobos's "Bachianas #5," as well as rhythmically exciting septet versions of two popular Brazilian songs: Edu Lobo's "Viola Fora de Moda" (my favorite track on the album!) and Alex Madureira's "Cumeno com Cuentro."

In addition, she revisits three of the original pieces from her 1994 debut, "Asa Verde": "Negra," with guitarist Jeff Buenz; "Jangada," with a quartet featuring Buenz, bassist Gary Brown, drummer Celso Alberti, and Villela herself on piano; and "Taina," featuring newly improvised lyrics, with the septet (Brown on bass plus Jasnam Daya Singh, piano; Ricardo Peixoto, guitar; Andy Connel, soprano saxophone; Michael Spiro, percussion; and the late drummer Paul van Wageningen).

If some of these names sound familiar, it's good to remember that Gary Brown, Celso Alberti and Ricardo Peixoto were members of Airto & Flora Purim's band throughout the 80s. Peixoto also recorded with another drum legend, Dom Um Romão, on his "Hotmosphere" album for Norman Granz's Pablo label. On his turn, Michael Spiro has played with countless latin and Brazilian bands in the Bay Area for over 2 decades, appearing on Mark Murphy's groundbreaking vinyl "Canções do Brasil," released on the Muse label. And Jasnam Daya Singh -- aka Weber Drummond aka Weber Iago -- recorded on flutist Vera Guimarães' acclaimed "Stirring The Forest" album, and often performed with super-drummer Helcio Milito, who invited him to join the legendary Tamba Trio on its last incarnation. A great band for a great singer gifted with flawless pitch & intonation.
Claudia Villela was born August 27, 1961 in Rio de Janeiro. She grew up surrounded by music in her grandmother's home, beginning to make music herself when she was only a year old. She started singing in college festivals around Rio at age 15, and before long found work as a studio musician. She also started performing around the city, while developing a book of original songs featuring her lyrics and music. Initially planning to enroll in medical school, Villela decided to combine her two passions and earned a B.A. in music therapy from the Brazilian Conservatory of Music.

Relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-1980s, Villela quickly immersed herself in the region's thriving jazz scene, gaining valuable experience with the Down Beat-award winning De Anza College Jazz Singers. She studied with NEA Jazz Master Sheila Jordan and with John Robert Dunlap of the New York Metropolitan Opera before making her recording debut with 1994's Grammy-nominated "Asa Verde."

She has since performed and/or recorded with such major jazz figures as Michael Brecker, Toots Thielemans, Toninho Horta, Hermeto Pascoal, Airto, Guinga, Romero Lubambo, Mario Adnet, Dori Caymmi, and Kenny Werner (with whom she recorded her 2004 fourth album, "Dream Tales," as a duo). That same year, she recorded a live performance at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, California, for broadcast on NPR; it was released as "Live @ Kuumbwa 2004" in 2013. "Encantada Live" is her second live album.

Claudia Villela will perform at the Hillside Club, Berkeley, Friday 4/26; at Kuumbwa Jazz, Santa Cruz, Monday 4/29; and at SFJAZZ's Miner Auditorium, Wednesday 6/19.

Photos: Maria Camillo (with Lilu the dog), Aloizio Jordao
Web Site: claudiavillela.com

Big Band Jazz CD of the Month - "Randy Brecker & Mats Holmquist: Together"

Big Band Jazz CD of the Month
Randy Brecker & Mats Holmquist with UMO Jazz Orchestra: "Together" 
Rating: ***** (musical performance & sonic quality)

Produced by Mats Holmquist and Willem Bleeker
Recorded on March 15-16, 2018 by Willem Bleeker @ Finnvox Studios (Helsinki, Finland)
Additional engineering by Ada Rovatti
Mixed in April-May 2018 @ Baggpipe Studios (Stockholm, Sweden) by Willem Bleeker and Mats Holmquist
Mastered on June 13, 2018 @ Cutting Room Studios (Stockholm, Sweden) by Björn Engelmann
Cover Painting: Erik Hardstedt

Featuring: Mats Holmquist: composer, arranger, conductor; Randy Brecker: trumpet, flugelhorn. UMO Jazz Orchestra – Teemu Mattsson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Timo Paasonen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Mikko Pettinen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tero Saarti: trumpet, flugelhorn; Janne Toivonen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jakob Gudmundsson: trumpet (1, 3-5, 8); Ville Vannemaa: alto, soprano sax, clarinet; Mikko Makinen: alto, soprano sax, clarinet, flute; Teemu Salminen: tenor sax, clarinet; Max Zenger: tenor sax, flute; Pepa Paivinen: baritone sax, flute; Heikki Tuhkanene: trombone; Mikko Mustonen: trombone; Juho Viljanen: trombone; Mikael Langbacka: bass trombone; Mikel Ulfberg: guitar; Seppo Kantonen: piano; Juho Kivivuori: bass; Markus Ketola: drums.

“I think you’ll really enjoy this CD there are absolutely no dull moments, you are going to be taken on the ride of a lifetime, so enjoy it and let me know when you come back to Earth!”  – Randy Brecker.   
Randy Brecker, the best jazz trumpeter alive, is back in "lead large Jazz Ensemble form" with Mats Holmquist’s incredible writing and arrangements for Finland's UMO Jazz Orchestra. The results are beyond words. At 1m56s of the opening track, Brecker plays one of his signature phrases and everythings becomes magical. He flies on top of Holmquist's scores, which are full of inventiveness, surprising the listener throughout the album. I couldn't imagine that someone could surprise me doing renditions of such Chick Corea tunes as "Windows" (on its best version since Flora Purim's and Hubert Laws' renditions in the 70s) and "Crystal Silence" (an evergreen from the 1972 self-titled Return To Forver debut album, and a few years later documented on a famous Corea-Gary Burton duo project), but Brecker & Holmquist succeeded on that impossible mission, masterfully re-working them.

This CD also features a third Corea gem, "Humpty Dumpty" (maybe the greatest theme from the underrated 1978 masterpiece "The Mad Hatter"); three compositions and one arrangement written in the late eighties: “One Million Circumstances,” “Summer and Winter,” “Always Young,” “Never Let Me Go”; and two new re-compositions based on a couple of famous standards: “My Stella” (a Fantasy on “Stella by Starlight”) and “All My Things” (“All the Things You Are”).

UMO Jazz Orchestra is the only professional orchestra in Finland specialized in jazz and new rhythm-oriented music. The big band of 16 musicians plays about 80 concerts every year in Finland and abroad. The orchestra plays a diverse range of modern music that is on the pulse of the times. These arrangements all have little (and not so little) twists and turns that keep you on your toes at all times.

The arrangers' ‘impressions’ or minimalistic versions of so-called standards "Stella By Starlight’ (both Randy and Mats have daughters named Stella by the way), and "All the Things you Are" which are re-imagined with delightful results, plus the beautiful Ray Evans- Jay Livingston ballad "Never Let Me Go," and then three Mats' original compositions: "One Million Circumstances," "Always Young," and "Summer and Winter," each quite challenging in their own way.

Randy Brecker has been shaping the sound of music for decades. His performances have graced hundreds of albums by a wide range of artists from Dreams, Michel Legrand, João Donato, George Benson and the CTI All Stars to James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Chaka Khan, Eliane Elias, Ada Rovatti and Parliament-Funkadelic, besides two Grammy winning albums on Summit & MAMA Records. I've been Randy's fan for over 4 decades, and he never ceases to amaze me. Together with Mats Holmquist and the UMO Jazz Orchestra, he just did it again.