Slim Gaillard: Babalu (orooney)

Now we take a turn towards the surreal, guided by the unique multi-instrumentalist Slim Gaillard. Even with prior knowledge of Gaillard’s mastery of double-talk and his invented language, “Vout”, little can prepare the listener for this bizarre and very funny transformation of the Cuban classic “Babalu.” Although the song was forever associated with Desi Arnaz, Gaillard’s version starts in imitation of the Xavier Cugat recording. However, Gaillard’s imagination soon takes over and he starts inserting “orooney” and other vout phrases in with the Spanish lyrics. By the time he quotes “Jingle Bells” (!), we are in a completely different universe where all kinds of languages—real and invented—come at us from all angles.

In the 1998 notes for the Smithsonian collection,The Jazz Singers, Robert G. O’Malley wrote that Gaillard had transformed the moments of parody in the recordings of Fats Waller and Al Hibbler into an aesthetic of parody. While such an analysis seems rather high-brow, there is little doubt that Gaillard’s comedic concepts were unparalleled in jazz—or any other music, for that matter. At any rate, such theories are much less damaging than those offered during his career, including the idea that Gaillard’s vout promoted drug use. That accusation caused Gaillard to lose a lot of work and led to long nomadic periods in his life.

August 06, 2009 · 1 comment

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Rebecca Cline and Hilary Noble / Enclave: Crossroads

Enclave Diaspora's liner notes inform us of the derivation of the words:

     ENCLAVE/DIASPORA, DIASPORA/ENCLAVE … two opposing yet connected poles …
     ENCLAVE implying the enclosed, the separate, the uncommon community …
     DIASPORA speaking to the dispersion of that community, its casting out,
     its "seeding forth" (Greek "dia": through, "spora": seed)

OK … whatever you say. I suppose a visit to Wikipedia will crystallize it all for me.

"Crossroads" is progressive jazz in the Afro-Cuban mode. Intricate rhythms are present from the riff-filled introduction. Hilary Noble's saxophone and Rebecca Cline's piano are involved in a give-and-take conversation. Cline takes the first aggressive Latin jazz solo. Noble follows with a more straight-ahead turn. At times he takes it out. The rhythms overtake the proceedings and lead us back to the catchy head.

I find the music easier to understand than the liner notes. But this is good music and is a pleasure to listen to. Who needs to read anyway? (I am kidding about that last part. Reading is very important.)

December 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Arturo O'Farrill & Claudia Acuna: Moondance

This version of "Moondance" retains the spirit of the original song while employing decidedly un-Morrison arrangements. Beginning with a sprightly acoustic guitar waltz said to be inspired by the Venezuelan genre of Joropo, the listener can't be faulted for thinking that maybe the song has been mislabeled. This is "Moondance"? Well, Claudia Acuna's crystalline voice comes in, fitting the expected melody perfectly in its place. Arturo O'Farrill lifts the end of the chorus with some ascending piano figures that introduce the middle section, which seems to be Coltrane-inspired (the liner notes confirm this). Acuna's voice is then accented by its lone pairing with some simple percussion before the group heads again back into the chorus and conclusion. An exhilarating twist on the Morrison classic.

September 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Arturo O'Farrill & Claudia Acuna: In These Shoes

Latin jazz stars and friends in long standing Claudia Acuna and Arturo O'Farrill say they recorded this album just to have fun and nothing else. They say they weren't interested in pleasing "serious jazz cognoscenti" or wanting to "ingratiate themselves with jazz purists." Well, they have come to the right jazz critic in this case because I am neither of those things. I dug "In These Shoes." The song is fun even if I didn't understand vocalist Pedrito Martinez's Spanish lyrics. I still knew what he meant. The tune is basically a friendly suggestive tease between a man and a woman who is wearing some sexy shoes (a shoe/foot fetishist's dream). Acuna, who sings in English on the cut, has a wonderful jazz-inflected voice. Though it is true that most of the album probably would not pass the "jazz smell test," this tune has plenty of Latin jazz elements to qualify.

September 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stan Kenton: La Guera Baila

I love the entire Cuban Fire Suite. In fact, I love all of the music that Johnny Richards wrote for the Kenton band. This album represents one of the first and finest fusions of jazz and Afro-Cuban music. This ballad features wonderful solos. Mel Lewis’s drumming throughout is, as always, perfect. My professor from college, George Gaber, plays timpani on several tracks of the album. For power combined with lyricism, this is hard to beat.

March 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Caribbean Jazz Project (with Dave Samuels): Soul Sauce

This is a song with a history. Cal Tjader had a huge hit with "Soul Sauce" in 1965. But he borrowed the song - well, it's not really a song, more like a vamp - from "Guarachi Guaro," a 1948 recording of Dizzy Gillespie with Chano Pozo. Now Dave Samuels steps in and shows that 60 years later, this "Soul Sauce" has lost none of its spiciness. The band settles in for a comfortable medium-up tempo, a perfect beat for the intro and turnaround, which are supposed to sound like a syncopated blur. Samuels contributes a tasty solo with just the right dose of funkiness. If hip songs still got airplay, this could be a hit all over again.

March 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tito Rodriguez: Perdido

The Tito Rodriguez band is not as well known as those of his compatriots Machito and Tito Puente, but cognoscenti will assure you that this band more than deserves a seat on the pantheon of Latin jazz orchestras known as "The Big Three." This album features standards arranged in the mambo style that made Rodriguez famous. The open form on "Perdido" allows for ample solo space, of which the guest performers avail themselves expertly. Of Brookmeyer, Cohn, Sims and Terry, it is the last whose offering succeeds most effectively in bridging the gap between the clave-based foundation set down by the rhythm section and the "straight-ahead" bebop phraseology in which they are more well-versed. Terry's attention to the placement and internal accents of his solo lines shows a true affinity for the Latin jazz aesthetic.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker: La Paloma

Conceived by producer Norman Granz, Parker's Latin jazz sessions are sometimes offered up as a kitsch anomaly in his discography. However, Bird shows great reverence for the melody of this traditional Spanish song and respect for his accompanying musicians. His preference for improvisational language that emphasizes rhythmic displacement and internal syncopation over his usually more harmonically intricate solos demonstrates an acute sensitivity to the differences between bebop and Latin jazz rhythm sections. For bringing this group of musicians together and allowing Parker to demonstrate his mastery in yet another fashion, we need to add this small, but significantly influential, body of work to the many debts the jazz world owes Mr. Granz.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Israel "Cachao" Lopez: El Timbalero Travieso

The album from which this track came was nominated for the 1996 Grammy Award in the Tropical Latin performance. This all-star descarga jam session, led by bassist Cachao, features some of the best Latin jazz musicians ever. Trombonist Bosch anchors the riff melody, with brief solo statements interspersed by flutist Torres and Justo Almario on tenor sax. The track's title, translated as "The Tricky Timbalero [timbales player]" refers to Orestes Vilató, who steals the spotlight with a commanding solo, employing the full range of sonic and rhythmic possibilities of the timbales.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Parker (with Machito): Okiedoke

Weeks after the 1948 recording ban was lifted on musicians, Clef Records producer Norman Granz brought Charlie Parker together with bandleader Machito for a four-side Afro-Cuban recording session. Dizzy Gillespie had already pioneered the Latin-jazz big-band sound with "Algo Bueno" in 1946 as well as "Cubano Be, Cubano Bop" and "Manteca" in 1947. Parker’s late 1948 Afro-Cuban sides sounded so fresh that Granz brought Bird and Machito back in January to record "Okiedoke" and three others. "Okiedoke" is significant because it’s one of the earliest mergers of jazz and mambo—a dance rhythm pioneered earlier in the 1940s by Perez Prado. Parker clearly is having a blast playing over the piston-like percussion and sax-saturated arrangement.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mario Bauzá: Cubauza

Recorded just a few months before his passing, this album became a posthumous homage to the great Mario Bauzá. Its title refers to Bauzá's longtime New York residence, where generations of the greatest in Latin jazz visited the Maestro. Bauzá's band is remarkable on this energized track. The tightly arranged soli voicings and dexterous execution of the saxophone section's melody are artfully juxtaposed against emphatic brass statements. Trombonist Eidem and baritone saxophonist Calogero offer especially memorable improvisations. The track also features an all-star rhythm section, including José Mangual, "Patato" Valdes, and Bobby Sanabria.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dizzy Gillespie: Cubano Be, Cubano Bop (aka Afro-Cuban Drum Suite)

Listed on the album as "Afro-Cuban Drum Suite," this version of George Russell's "Cubano Be, Cubano Bop" features an especially rich, improvised duet by conguero Chano Pozo and Gillespie not heard on other versions. Recorded live in France as part of a very successful European tour in 1948, this was the last time Pozo would record this seminal piece of jazz history with the Gillespie band (he was murdered in November of the same year). The composition was originally commissioned for a September 1947 concert at Carnegie Hall that was the premiere of Gillespie's new Afro-Cuban jazz aesthetic, later dubbed "Cubop." In his improvisation, Gillespie demonstrates a remarkable affinity for Afro-Cuban rhythms, which he seamlessly melds with bebop phrasing and vocabulary.

February 05, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stan Kenton: Fuego Cubano (Cuban Fire)

This is the title track from the Cuban Fire Suite, an album that is perhaps Kenton’s masterpiece. Stan was determined to record a suite that would combine a big band jazz approach with authentic Cuban rhythms and song forms, and he commissioned Johnny Richards to compose the music. Richards, one of the most schooled composers of big band music, did a great amount of research, and assembled an excellent rhythm section with the help of Willie Rodriguez. The title track begins freely and powerfully, and then calms down at the introduction of the melody played by Larsen with a muted Noto improvising under him (a favorite Richards device). Thompson and Fontana also solo. This album was so successful that it helped launch Richards as a leader.

January 09, 2008 · 1 comment

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Stan Kenton: Machito

The Kenton band’s music attracted the finest young instrumentalists, as the band provided an excellent forum for new music. Pete Rugolo was this era’s chief composer/arranger, his work encompassing everything from pop songs to virtually anything he wanted to write. Stan loved the Machito Orchestra, and asked Rugolo to write something to dedicate to the Cuban maestro. The band first recorded this music in February without the bongos and maracas, but it is this performance that really crackles with excitement, one of the earliest instances of Afro-Cuban big band jazz on record. Solos are by Kenton, Winding, Alvarez, and a spectacular duet of Childers and Layton.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Caravan (1936)

Duke Ellington's first "Caravan" set off from Hollywood five months before his better-known 1937 big-band excursion departed New York. The journey was cloaked in mystery. Asked our destination, Duke said only, "Expect sand." That could've meant Malibu. Duke chuckled, "Lots of sand." So the Sahara was not entirely a shock. Upon arrival, a local official demanded to know why we were there. "We came," said Duke, "for the waters." The official sputtered, "We're in the desert!" Duke slyly tugged his ear and replied, "I was misinformed." Cootie, Carney and Barney are all masterful here, but co-composer Tizol's valve trombone is unforgettable.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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