Monday, June 28, 2010

In review--Sizzling Summer Jazz

Hilario Duran Trio
Alma Records

Roberto Occhipinti
A bend in the river
Alma Records

I love Latin jazz piano and after listening to Cuban-born Hilario Duran’s Motion several times, I’d have to say Duran is among the crème of crème of Latin pianist. I immediately heard the connection to Cuban jazz players a trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and reedman Paquito D’Rivera and pianist Chucho Valdes (all Cubanos associated with Duran). While Duran usually composes for big bands, he’s right at home with his trio which features Roberto Occhipinti on bass and Mark Kelso on drums. And dang, this music gets the blood pumping from the get-go. It grabs listeners and holds them hostage for the duration of the 8 tracks. Aptly titled, Motion never stops moving. These musicians work up a sweat, delving into complicated rhythms with aplomb. I’m reminded of another trio led by pianist Michel Camilo, another musician that recalls the Energizer Bunny.

Conversation with a Lunatic flies past while Havana City starts out slow, dreamy, with a lush orchestra followed by Afro-Cuban drums. Duran’s piano converses with singer Joaquin Hidalgo echoing back to Irakere’s Afro-Cuban rumba-tinged pieces. In fact, Havana City quickly became my favorite track on this album. This track acts as one of the only breath-catching moments on the album. And it’s still an exhilarating track with gorgeous piano phrases punctuated by the Caribbean drums, kit drum and bass. For Emiliano also slows the pace for a short respite. Once again I’m reminded of Michel Camilo’s piano work since he also blends classical with Latin jazz, especially after the pace increases and Duran introduces a salsa piano riff and the drums and bass turn up the heat. And we’re in-motion and picking up speed.

I highly recommend Motion to fans of Latin jazz, especially, piano-led Afro-Cuban jazz. The frenzied pace of this recording lends itself well to dancing, or offering some get-up and go when you’re feeling too sluggish. Don’t listen to this album before bedtime or you might find your thoughts and heart racing too fast for you to obtain a good night’s sleep. No matter when you listen to Motion, you’ll find yourself breathless. And you’ll know that the future of jazz is safe in the hands of this trio.

From a trio to a quartet, bassist Roberto Occhipinti pays homage to the late jazz saxophonist John Coltrane on a bend in the river. This quartet features, piano, saxophone, bass, and drums, but the bass performs double duty in the rhythm section and as a lead melodic instrument, listen to the bass play the motifs on Coltrane’s Naima. And some of the original songs carry a Coltrane signature too with strong melodic emphasis.

A bend in the river features the quartet backed by a string orchestra and a classical ensemble (featuring strings, woodwinds and trumpet). The quartet plays only one track unaccompanied by the orchestra players, Garotte. As mentioned earlier, the unforgettable melodies and choice of instruments (bass, drums, piano, and sax), for the quartet recall John Coltrane (who combined other music traditions with jazz), Giant Steps, and My Favorite Things. The inclusion of the orchestra instruments matched with Latin jazz elements recall Stan Getz’s work. The music here is both complex and easily accessible with high-octane performances from all the musicians.

“While this music is not specific to any one country, rhythmically, it makes references to Africa, Brazil, and the Middle East. It is jazz as the original world music.” (Press notes). And one popular world music drummer, Tony Allen (Fela Kuti fame) performs on the titular track. However, the track that blends jazz and classical possesses no world music elements that I can hear. Occhipinti performs the first part of Coltrane’s Naima on his bass. The bass whispers over ambient strings and wash of cymbals. Halfway through the song, Deniz’ saxophone takes over contributing a seductive element. In fact, a bend in the river provides the right ambience and mood for a romantic dinner or interlude.

I should warn you that Chamacos swings hard with a lot of action coming from drummer Dafnis Prieto (also performs with Michel Camilo) and David Virelles’ piano takes off into stellar heights, followed by Occhipinti’s bass solo and then Deniz on saxophone. All but 2 of the tracks were composed by Occhipinti. Deniz composed the final track, Marta which possesses Latin rhythms and a sweeping melody carried by the sax.