Sunday, August 8, 2010

In review--Fantastico Fazioli!

Benjamim Taubkin
Piano Masters Series vol. I
Adventure Music

Fazioli pianos represent the Rolls Royce of keyboards. Designed and produced in Italy, this particular piano is out of the price range of non-millionaires. I had heard of Fazioli pianos, but never actually heard one until Benjamim Taubkin’s performance as part of Adventure Music’s Piano Master Series. As far as I can tell, a variety of pianists were set up in the Fazioli Studio in New York City and the results I’m certain will delight even the most discerning tastes. Marrying gifted pianist/composers with these gorgeous sounding instruments proves ingenuous. As a lover of pianos I have found great pleasure in immersing myself in Taubkin’s music. I feel spoiled by such pleasure.

As I listened to the recording I thought that Taubkin must give himself goose bumps when he composes this ethereal music. I know I was feeling chills running up and down my spine while listening to this collection of songs. The melody that runs through Around Estacio from Amado Maita recalls Baden-Powell’s Afro-Sambas. And if you listen to this track, and all the tracks through headphones, you will hear a faint hum that turns out to be Taubkin singing along with the piano. This reminded me of the late Glenn Gould’s piano recordings since he also sang along with his piano, though not in the most tuneful voice. This leaves me wondering how many pianists follow this practice.

Taubkin performs a rendition of the John Coltrane’s chestnut, Giant Step. Here you hear it played on solo piano and the results are so captivating, you won’t miss the other instruments. The album opens with the solemn Around the Influences, but then on the second track, The Melody and the Seed, the piano takes flight as a quick ditty that sounds like a cross between J.S. Bach and nostalgic Brazilian jazz radiates from keys.

If the remainder of the series exudes with this much power then bring on the recordings. It’s not every day we get to hear a pianist lock himself alone in a studio filled with Fazioli pianos. Taubkin even refers to his experience as like hanging out “in a house of toys that come to life after the sun goes down.” The listener will definitely feel the magic conjured out of these perfect instruments. I send out kudos to Richard Zirinsky Jr. and Jim Luce for this brilliant brainchild.

In review--West African Praise Songs

Carlou D
World Village

It has been a long while since I’ve listened to Senegalese music and I’ll admit the bulk of West African music I’ve reviewed in the past 3 years has hailed from Mali. So when I popped Carlou D’s World Village debut, Muzikr into the player I was delighted to hear the kora shimmering around acoustic guitar and soaring vocals. I don’t know if Carlou is a descendent of the griot class, but he certainly plays the role of a griot (storyteller, messenger, educator…) on his recording. He wears his sentiments on his sleeve, not to mention his religious convictions. He’s the kind of guy you’d like to know musically and otherwise, coming across as a Bob Marley for a younger generation. This is the highest compliment I can give Carlou since I'm a fan of Bob Marley's music and integrity.

I wasn’t sure at first what I was going to think of the recording. I thought it would be filled with Senegalese pop and hip-hop music, but it’s not. Strong melodies supported by polyrhythms and stunning guitar and signature vocals dominate. The recording feels gentle in so many ways, even when Carlou takes on heavier topics such as the historical slave trade of his homeland or the plight of young Senegalese immigrating to Europe to find streets paved in gold, but instead finding despair. The opener Sam Fall supplies listeners with passionate vocals supported by the kora’s cascading notes and acoustic guitar. In contrast, Fi Ma Dar sounds more bluesy, and Nanioul more upbeat.

Gorèe features Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour in a duet. Sen Regal sounds like a cross between reggae and hip-hop done Senegalese-style. My favorite song on the album, Namenala (for his mother who died when Carlou was 20 years old), feels melancholic in a deep soulful way. The bulk of the album includes prayer songs that honor Cheikh Ibra Fall (a spiritual guide of the Muslim faith that lived 100 years ago). Carlou’s songs capture both the sacred and pop sensibility. With virtuosic kora and guitar throughout the CD and meaningful lyrical content, Carlou D stands at the precipice of international stardom.

In review--The Sound of 3

Marcos Amorim Trio
Adventure Music

I reviewed Marcos Amorim Trio’s Revolving Landscapes in 2008 and I was impressed with the trio’s (Jorge Albuquerque-bass and Rafael Barata-drums) laidback approach. Shimmering cymbals recalled ocean waves while the bass anchored the guitars’ flights of fancy. Portraits which marks Amorim’s fourth album with Adventure Music, sounds more laidback than the previous recording. Again, the guitars (both electric and acoustic) set out exploring Brazilian jazz terrain while the bass and drums conjure images of Rio de Janeiro’s sumptuous beaches.

Amorim has captivated the press with his compositions and performances. And certainly he possesses a rich imagination in the soundscapes he creates with his guitar. While you will hear guitar solos here and there, Amorim doesn’t come off as the flashy type, but a musician who prefers to integrate his guitars with the rhythm section. His style is as the press notes cite, “elegant and graceful,” with nothing overstated or understated. The music feels uplifting, hopeful and relaxing and for those of you seeking a pleasant musical journey pop this recording into your player.

Maracatù picks up the tempo slightly and the musicians engage in a passionate musical exchange, probably working up a bit of a sweat. The title track slows the pace and creates a romantically-charged atmosphere (well, this is sexy Brazilian music). The stunning guitar work on this song promises to entice jazz and other music reviewers and aficionados. Bantu departs rhythmically with the drums playing a greater role and the guitar playing a syncopated and catchy rhythm. Daniel combines elements of Brazilian and American jazz resulting in a sunny mood.

I’ve had to listen to Portraits several times before reviewing it. My mind tends to drift and wander when I listen to music and in the case of this recording I lost myself so completely in the music that I forgot I was supposed to be reviewing it! Not only that, I find the CD soothing at a time of family crisis. I would even call the arrival of two Brazilian recordings (at my post office box recently) a god send. Yes, I find this music relaxing, healing and absolutely stunning. You won’t get a higher recommendation than that.