Brazilian-born jazz pianist Helio Alves brings his formidable skill to Jazz Legacy Productions with Musica, his first album for the label (though fourth as bandleader overall). Fans of Latin-flavored jazz will love this collection of nine dynamic, rhythmically inventive tunes. The trio consists of Alves on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Antonio Sanchez on drums.
The uptempo opener, Dom Salvador’s “Gafeira,” is a jaunty demonstration of how well attuned these three musicians are to each other. Trumpeter Claudio Roditi makes his first of two guest appearances, contributing a short but sweet solo near the end of the track. Slower, but still simmering, is Moacir Santos’ “Kathy,” played in 5/4 time. Alves begins the piece with relatively contemplative explorations, building in complexity over time. Sanchez offers an impressive array of rhythmic variety highlighting the second half of the tune. “Sombra,” a ballad composed by Alves himself, features some of the most melodic piano playing on the album.
One of the more familiar tunes on Musica is a reading of Wayne Shorter’s “Black Nile.” Rogers’ bass gets a nice spotlight moment, with a powerful solo. In fact, “Black Nile” boasts some of the strongest interplay amongst the trio, with Alves and Sanchez trading eight bar solos in an exciting climax to the performance.
Beautiful guitar playing by Romero Lubambo graces a lovely take of Dori Caymmi’s “Flor Das Estradas.” Tempo changes and increasingly complex work from the rhythm section enliven “Musica Das Nuvens E Do Chao,” the lengthiest workout on the album. In fact, the track fades out near the seven and a half minute mark with Alves still cooking.
Claudio Roditi returns for “Adeus Alf,” delivering a wonderful flugelhorn solo. The tune was composed by Roditi himself, and his presence makes it a highlight of Musica. The second of two Helio Alves originals, “Tribute To Charlie 2,” is dedicated to pianist Charlie Banacos. Banacos passed away December 8th, 2009, and was mentor to Alves as cited in the liner notes. Avles dedicates the entirety of Musica to the influential jazz educator.
Closing the album is “Chan’s Song,” a tune written by Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder for the movie Round Midnight. In addition to the gentle fluidity of Alves’ soloing, the track features another guest spot for guitarist Romero Lubambo.
Musica, though deceptively mellow in sound, features some intensely focused piano improvisation from Helio Alves. He and his trio, along with the featured guests, have created a very special and rewarding piece of music.