Razl: Rotonova

Smiling Bob

Before the law caught up with them for fraud, the makers of Enzyte intermittently ran a short late-night TV infomercial. Enzyte claimed to be a "male enhancement" formula. Bob, the star of the infomercial and supposed satisfied user of Enzyte, was constantly shown with this goofy but confident shit-eating smile on his face. The music used for that commercial was very similar in mood to "Rotonova." Listening to guitarist Razl's hipper and more intricate song will make you smile just like Bob. The 1:20 tune is part bossa nova, part blues, part traditional jazz organ trio and all fun. On the album it acts as a perfect transition to the next tune. You should check out Razl's music when you have a chance, even if you feel you have no need for enhancement.

Disclaimer: "Rotonova" has not yet been tested by the FDA to determine its efficacy.

January 07, 2009 · 0 comments


Razl: Snail Underground

Spanish guitarist Razl (real name Raul Huelves) is a real find. Rotonova is his debut album. Almost as entertaining as his music are the album's liner notes and song titles. Razl appears to be a very talented artist who takes music quite seriously but doesn't necessarily take himself that way. I have always felt that's the right attitude for musicians who play any form of jazz. Sometimes would-be fans are turned off by the overly serious jazz artist. It's OK to be a lighthearted human being sometimes, I always say.

"Snail Underground" is a blues-funk fusion dosed with an infectious and dastardly undertone. In ways the piece is a really fast modern version of "St. James Infirmary" combined with Béla Fleck's "Sinister Minister." (You can't get more descriptive than that, my friends!)  Razl cooks. The heavy Leslie organ grooves and Hugo Astudillo's saxophone make good impressions too. Influences are heard. There's a little Zappa, a brief snippet of the progressive jazz-rock of Return to Forever, a smidgen of the Allman Brothers and a vocal section that for some strange reason made me think of Iron Butterfly! How wonderfully strange this is. Of note is bassist Bryan Beller, whom I recently had the pleasure of discovering for the first time. He is a talent who deserves close watching. Leader Razl is no slouch either. He's got the attitude, composing skills, chops and imagination to put together the right players for a very engaging outing. I suggest you drop your needlepoint and listen to this music now.

January 06, 2009 · 0 comments


Emilio Solla: Conversas

Emilio Solla y Afines is a talented international musician combining jazz, classical music and traditional ethnic music into a pleasing casserole. In his case, the tango tradition figures greatly in his playing. Much of this album takes its identity from bandmate Carlos Morera's playing of the traditional Latin American instrument the bandoneon, which sounds somewhat like an accordion. The trick is to not make the music so Latin that the other elements are hidden. For the most part, Solla and his band accomplish this task with ease, skill and taste.

The title cut, however, is actually a Solla piano solo. It is miles apart from anything else heard on the album. I find it a good exercise to choose an outlier to review. To me, it is always best to listen to a musician playing outside the box of the expected. It gives you more understanding of the player's range. Despite its Spanish name, "Conversas" is not Latin-heavy. Instead, it is a series of lush and gentle arpeggios built on each other. The sparse melody is slow and subtle. Solla is in no hurry to impress you with his chops. Thoughtfulness and storytelling reign. In some ways, his inventiveness reminds me of the wonderful Mitchel Forman. He tends to use more space and his fingers are not quite as light. But the feelings he conveys put him in the same class. In my book, that class has very few students.

July 08, 2008 · 0 comments


Gene Bertoncini: Concierto de Aranjuez / Spain

Gene Bertoncini is best described as an elegant player. The fine veteran guitarist brings a gentle style to his playing that often understates his virtuosity. On this cut he plays with a string quartet and the masterful acoustic bass of David Finck, showing the bridge that can exist between classical and jazz when explored by willing and able artists. To this end, he is only partially successful.

The idea to do a medley of Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" and Chick Corea's "Spain" was one that fascinated me. Bertoncini demonstrates an intuitive feel for the inherent sensibilities of these disparate yet similarly inspired works. The string ensemble feels very comfortable in the classical mode and Bertoncini seems equally at home in this sensitive but deliberate setting, where he plays in an accomplished classical Spanish guitar motif. When the song switches abruptly to the "Spain" portion of the medley, Bertoncini and David Finck lead the way for the other strings punctuated by a rousing pizzicato bass solo that is free to be adventurous, especially in its aggressive tone, and pushes the pulse of the tune. Bertoncini comps with soft chords behind Finck's plucky bass until he starts his own solo, which he plays with a lightness and delicacy that is draped in the silky finery of his approach. The strings demonstrate their own unified voice in a tension-building arco chorus that just doesn't cut it for me and yields to an inappropriately sweet violin solo before Bertoncini returns it to the Corea melody line and then back again to the Rodrigo finale, tying the two melodies together for one last time. Clearly an ambitious undertaking that despite its shortcomings makes clear that both Bertoncini and Finck are adept enough to straddle the worlds of classical and jazz comfortably.

June 02, 2008 · 0 comments


Michel Camilo & Tomatito: Spain

Chick Corea's hit tune played by a Spanish flamenco guitarist and a piano virtuoso from the Dominican Republic, how can this sound? The theme itself is so thickly written that it actually leaves little room for the two musicians to show anything else than their sound and technique. You have to wait until Tomatito takes a solo to hear some feeling and emotion, both in the slow passages and in the purely virtuosic moments. Camilo, for his part, tends to overplay and doesn't bring much to the original song, while the guitarist adds a subtle personal touch even when he plays arpeggios or chords behind his overwhelming partner.

March 16, 2008 · 0 comments


Sergi Sirvent Escué: Cal.liope

This is the first track of a double CD devoted to the theme of the 9 muses of Greek mythology. Catalan pianist-composer Sergi Sirvent Escué opens this lengthy multiform opus with this trio piece around Calliope. He alternates virtuoso right-hand streaks and repetitive motifs on the left hand, goes from groovy passages to more ad-lib abstract ones, and is followed by a rhythm team that offers strong and colorful support. Such an atypical tune from such a young artist, whose influences encompass classical music, Herbie Hancock and pop music, explains why Sirvent is considered one of the most promising musicians of the lively Barcelona scene.

March 11, 2008 · 0 comments


Chano Dominguez: La Tarara

This album, originally recorded on Venus Records, features Dominguez with the all-star rhythm section of George Mraz and Jeff Ballard whose rhythmic sensibilities are in harmony with this Spanish pianist, known for his explorations of jazz flamenco. "La Tarara" is a refashioned, traditional Andalusian children's song. Propelled by a bass ostinato, Dominguez explores the harmonic and rhythmic potential of this "simple little tune." While the album focuses mainly on a straight-ahead aesthetic, the juxtaposition and interpolation of this feel with seamless transitions in and out of a Latin jazz sensibility makes this a particularly rich sonic experience. The listener can tell that Dominguez is enjoying himself on this exuberant track.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments


Javier Vercher: Bird Food

From the first notes on, we're in the wake of Sonny Rollins's late-'50s trio. It's a very refreshing feeling, all the more coming from a young Spanish tenor presently living in New York. What, there are young tenors who don't spend their time trying to follow Brecker's trace, or looking for their sound somewhere between Lovano and Potter? Of course there are! But this one is European and his search for fathers (Rollins for the sound and phrasing, Ornette for the thematic material) spells of sincerity and future strong personality rather than just imitation. Besides, his partners fully understand his approach and help him beautifully in his quest.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments


Perico Sambeat: Barri de la Coma

Close your eyes, open your ears, and you'll almost think this is one of those Blue Note sessions with a Latin twist that were recorded in the '60s. The initial horns unison, or the trumpet solo, may be misleading. But not the "palmas" that open the tune along with the drums: yes we are in southern Spain, home of both the flamenco and Perico Sambeat, who invited his American friends to join him on this crossover session. No nostalgia, then, no revival either, but a very convincing mix of hard-bop drive and Latin rhythms played by young modernists whose common roots bridge the Atlantic.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments


Jorge Pardo: Caravan

A Spanish version might be expected to bring this song back home, since the Arabs (and their caravans) occupied Spain for many centuries and left traces of their culture in the arts, including music. But Jorge Pardo – flamenco guitar great Paco de Lucia's usual reed and flute player – knows better than to invoke clichés. His "Caravan" sounds quite contemporary, with a hard-toned Brecker-like tenor and an electric bass played with lots of effects. When the flamenco guitar steps to the fore, it never plays its classic role, and the percussion and berimbau weave a thick maze of metallic sounds around everything. A very Spanish version, but a most unexpected one, too.

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments


Ryan Blotnick: Thinning Air

Guitarist Ryan Blotnick counts among his influences Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, Wes Montgomery, and Gene Bertoncini. While it's possible to hear these shadings on several of the compositions on Music Needs You, Blotnick's unique voice shines through. "Thinning Air" starts off with the guitar playing in unison with saxophonist Pete Robbins on some slippery descending lines. Blotnick then takes a solo that parallels those introductory phrases before dropping away to make some space for the bass and drum segments to follow. After a repeat of the head, it's nice to see the piano taking over Blotnick's role as the sax's foil – proof that this young musician has interesting compositional ideas to go with those guitar chops.

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments


Joachim Kühn: Youmala

Whether you want to view it from the German + Moroccan + Spaniard, or Jew + Moslem + Christian angle, this trio and its music are about mixing genres and influences. During the last few decades, Europe has been more and more a place where jazz has opened up to ethnic music from the South and the East. And that’s exactly what Kühn, Bekkas and Lopez do: find a common ground where the North-African and Western traditions can blend without falling into the traps of commercial world music. These three musicians have deep roots and open ears. Their forays on this new path are so fruitful that they’re bound to be more than a mere fad.

January 10, 2008 · 0 comments


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