Reviews by J Hunter
Okay, okay, this is too late for Record Store Day, but here’s a little direction if you’re surfing on iTunes:
“Live at Blue Note Tokyo”
When I’m Oscar Castro-Neves’ age, I’ll consider myself lucky if I can get from my bed to my Playstation without assistance. This Brazilian guitarist is still playing alluring acoustic music at age 72, and he got together in 2009 with iconic percussionist Airto Moreira and some like-minded people for six nights of sweet music at Blue Note Tokyo. Listening to this set of subtly-drawn Latin classics makes me realize how hard some musicians work to make music that is both intimate and satisfying, where walking gems like Castro-Neves do it without breaking a sweat. Moreira teams with fellow percussionist Marco Bosco and bassist Marcelo Mariano to build beautiful backgrounds for Castro-Neves and keyboardist Paolo Calasans to weave their colorful tapestries – some written by Castro Neves and Moreira, others from timeless names like Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfa. Leila Pinheiro’s vocals put delicious icing on the sulty session, and Castro-Neves’ playing and singing style shows why he was such an inspiration for the late Kenny Rankin, to whom Castro-Neves pays heartfelt tribute in his section of the liner notes. This is music suitable for springtime, not to mention for a good long cuddle.
JOEL HARRISON 7
If guitarist Joel Harrison wanted to do something completely different from his 2009 neo-fusion masterpiece “Urban Myths,” then he’s surely succeeded with “Search.” I’m not a huge fan of Third Stream, because most attempts at Gunther Schuller’s “invention” try to thread the needle between jazz and classical – and usually miss by a mile on both. That said, Harrison just might have found the sweet spot with this set of brilliantly crafted “chamber music.” Harrison’s broad compositional and arranging style really blooms here, most ably assisted by epic tenorman Donny McCaslin and multi-faceted keyboardist Gary Versace. The classical end is held down nicely by violinist Christian Howes and cellist Dana Leong, and the package comes together on evocative, suite-like pieces like “Grass Valley and Beyond” and “A Magnificent Death.” Harrison even makes the classic rock chestnut “Whipping Post” work in this matrix, getting his own ya-ya’s out in the process. This music is a rich meal to digest, but if you take time to sample all its flavors, it’ll definitely be a memorable one.
Hammond B3 expert Jared Gold’s work as a sideman has been nothing short of sensational, and that streak continues on saxman Ralph Bowen’s upcoming release “Total Eclipse.” (More on that one in a future episode.) Gold’s own efforts as a leader, however, have been less than stellar. Thankfully, “Golden Child” breaks that streak, as all the fun and soul Gold brought to his support gigs finally made it to one of his own sessions. Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” gets an almost-complete reboot, maintaining the gospel feel of the original but adding a dancing attitude that celebrates that change, not mourns it. Gold’s jazzed-out take on Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Linemen” is as far from Glen Campbell as you can get, and Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” has a sexy element Ellington’s original never had. Ed Cherry’s guitar is both elegant and sassy, bridging the gap between jazz and R&B, and drummer Quincy Davis continues to be the steady-Eddie of Posi-Tone’s stable, providing an inventive solo voice when necessary and solid support for all occasions. Put this one on the “Party Music” list for this summer’s deck-party schedule. GREGOIRE MARET
Anybody who saw Gregoire Maret play with John Ellis & Double-Wide at Red Square a few years ago knows the chromatic harp player can pretty much do anything he wants to – and that’s actually one of the few flaws behind Maret’s self-titled debut as a leader. When Maret keeps it intimate, as he does on Stevie Wonder’s “The Secret Life of Plants” and Ivan Lins’ boss “Lembra de Mim,” you feel your pulse rate drop 20 points as this intensely personal artist continues the legacy of Toots Thielemans. (Thielemans makes a cameo on his own composition “O Amor E O Meu Pais.”) He also builds a beautiful duet version of George & Ira Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” with celebrated vocalist Cassandra Wilson. But while Maret also offers a winsome take on Pat Metheny’s “Travels,” the over-wrought orchestrations that pepper this disc harken back to some of the excesses of the Metheny Group’s later recordings, hijacking some otherwise nice moments. While I’m sure it was tempting for Maret and pianist/producer Federico Pena to showcase Maret’s versatility as an artist, a wiser move would have been to maintain the simplicity that can be found on all tracks without trying to build a bigger picture Maret doesn’t need to fill.
If we’re going to talk about simplicity, we need to talk about “Silent Movie,” the sublime fourth release from Melissa Stylianou. A trained actress and a veteran of the New York cabaret scene, Stylianou knows how to boil a piece down to its key elements and present it in a way that everyone can relate to. Smart covers of classics and deep cuts from James Taylor (“Something in the Way She Moves”, with lyrics changed for role reversal), Paul Simon (“Hearts and Bones”) and Johnny Cash (“I Still Miss Someone”) take you right to the heart of each song’s protagonist. Not content to stick to music by old white guys, Stylianou makes Vanessa da Mata’s “Onde Ir” speak to you whether you speak Portugese or not, and she pulls every bit of blues out of Jennifer Newsom’s “Swansea.” And when other people’s lyrics aren’t enough, she gives us some of her own on the swirling title track and over Edgar Meyer’s intricate “First Impressions.” Stylianou credits New York’s 55 Bar as the place where this material was developed, and I have to think (unlike in some liquor-and-food-based spaces I could name) you could hear a pin drop when she sang them. Bartender! Give me another one of these, and make it a double!