By-rote versions of well-worn jazz classics are generally defined as "filler." However, this fitting tribute to the Gershwin of Brazil is well served by the spirit of gypsy jazz, alive and well via the years of expertise that Lagrene, Coryell and Vitous carry to the stage. The trio lends new charm to a cut with unbreakable ties to the Latin heritage. And most importantly, Lagrene's fusion musings on guitar are not forced to succumb to the familiarity of a lead sheet. Overall, the track is successful due to this combo's uber-chops and stylistic panache.
Joe Lovano joins pianists Jovino Santos Neto and Weber Iago for a spectacular splash through Jobim's "Wave." While remaining respectful to the original source material, this impromptu group (Lovano came onstage as a guest at the end of the Neto/Iago set at the Caramoor Jazz Festival) brings to mind the duet work of Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, but with Lovano helping to take the song in a more "out" direction. Both pianists do their best to show just how much intrigue can be found in a well-worn melody, and Lovano is obviously more than up to the task.
Wunderkind Biréli Lagrčne was all of 13 when he recorded his first album, Routes to Django
. Lagrčne pretty much had the Django repertoire down pat before he was even 12. But as any serious 13-year-old guitarist would tell you, you don't know how good you are until you master the rhythms of that Jobim Brazilian stuff.
Lagrčne's brilliant performance on "Wave" is some sort of cruel joke foisted upon us untalented masses. I suppose if you had some skill you could spend 12 hours a day for about four years learning the piece and play something close to what you hear on this album. But according to the liner notes Lagrčne really didn't practice that much. He didn't read music either. Jesus. How does a kid play with that effortless dexterity and deep feeling? His rapid-fire picking is full of subtlety and nuance. Could he possibly have been that tuned-in? My ears tell me so. My ears also inform me that his older and more accomplished bandmates were in the pocket too. This music is in their blood. Anomalies like Lagrčne show you that music is so much more than about learning notes on a piece of paper.
Ahmad Jamal understood popular music, he understood commercialism, but, to me, he didn’t compromise. All of his artistic and musical decisions were personal and deliberate choices. There were some similarities between his work during this period and the so-called “smooth jazz” or “instrumental R&B,” or whatever you want to call it. But even though it was in a similar instrumental setting, what Ahmad Jamal was doing was too intense and complex to be called “smooth jazz.”
On “Wave” he revives the same basic arrangement from
his version on The Awakening
[Impulse!] in 1970. He plays the bassline, then breaks it up with this completely divergent rhythmic tangent, comes back to the line, and then sets up the song. There’s that element of surprise. A lot of young musicians today compose songs with a little piano-bass ostinato line to start off, which usually winds up being the most interesting part of the song. Most of them don’t know it, but they’re following Ahmad Jamal’s popularization of that device. He will stay on the vamp of a song for 10 minutes, and then play the actual song itself very briefly. For him, the form doesn’t make a difference. He might play an “A” section 20 times before going to the bridge, but you didn’t get tired of it. Then once he got to the bridge it was this huge release. His ability to spontaneously orchestrate is absolutely incredible. His genius has no limits.
Ahmad Jamal didn’t take part in the bossa nova craze of the early '60s, so it may sound strange that he suddenly tackles a Jobim tune 10 years later. But the Pittsburgh-born pianist doesn’t treat it as a typical Brasilian song at all. The theme appears only after more a minute-long original intro based on a bass ostinato. Then Jamal repeats short parts of the melody, while varying the intensity of his touch, or mixes them with rhythmic vamps. It’s deconstruction at its best, with optimal effect.
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