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Music Reviews: Latin Jazz from Ali Bello, Phill Fest, and Michelle Pollace

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Ali Bello – Connection Caracas – New York

MI0003641995From the first track to the last, Ali Bello’s Latin jazz album, Connection Caracas – New York, is all about the violin and the complex colors the instrument adds to an ensemble. Bello works with a variety of instrumental combinations, but it is always his violin that is front and center. And since the Venezuelan is a virtuoso on the instrument, whether it be acoustic, electric or baritone, his virtuosity is the album’s best recommendation.

The set opens with three Bello originals: “Amare,” an intensely driven melody; “In G” is Latin jazz, and the liner notes describe it as a “constant play and transformation between the minor and major mode”; “Kiss,” an Afro-Caribbean tune with a hint of blues. Pedro Cortes’ “Guajira” and “Zapateao” add a touch of flamenco to the mix, and the composer joins in on the acoustic guitar.

Paul Agraz helps out on the flugelhorn on the blues-infused cha cha “Mofongo” with its Big Apple vibe. In Bello’s “Cazon,” the arrangement fuses jazz with the violinist’s Venezuelan roots, roots which are again exploited in his “Untraveled,” a Venezuelan work song, which includes a vocal.

Connection Caracas – New York lives up to its name. Bello’s music not only makes the connection between the two cities, it does it with the kind of exciting energy that suggests more to come.

Phill Fest – Projecto B.F.C.51dXS8sSTML (400x400)

In the tradition of a son following in the footsteps of a famous father, South Florida-based guitarist Phill Fest’s Projecto B.F.C. returns to his Brazilian roots with a tight set of the kind of jazz-based sambas and bossa novas his father Manfredo helped popularize back in the ’60s. Working with Russ Howard on bass and Ronie Martinez on drums and percussion, and introducing Robert Prester on piano, Fest runs through nine tunes, prefaced by a short drum intro and a closing coda, both running under a minute.

Harmonica virtuoso Hendrik Meurkins turns in a dynamic guest turn on the Kenny Drew Jr. tribute to Manfredo, “Samba de Cayo Hueso,” as well as two of Manfredo’s own compositions, the lovely “Clearwater Sunset” and “Dig This Samba” which really close the set. These three pieces along with the guitarist’s own “Florianopolis” are the album highlights. Add to them two excellent tunes by Prester, “Commonwealth Ave” and “Islands of Guizar” and you have all the ingredients for some excellent Brazilian jazz via Florida.

Michelle Pollace – New Beginning

Michelle-Pollace-New-Beginning-album-300x300Pianist Michelle Pollace’s New Beginning offers an exploration of the multiple colors and rhythms of Latin jazz. Pollace, who had previously been co-leader of the Zarate Pollace Project, a Latin jazz fusion outfit, sees this album taking her in a fresh direction as solo leader.

The album’s ten tracks feature eight original compositions as well as Pollace’s arrangements of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as a jazz cha cha and Ernesto Lecuona’s “La Comparsa.” Working with guest soloist Kristen Strom on the soprano sax, she takes the Lecuona piece from what she calls a traditional slow danzon tempo to an uptempo jam. Both arrangements illustrate Pollace’s creative voice.

Variety in the Latin genre is the essence of the album. “Hot House Dandelion” is an uptempo jazz rhumba, while “First Flight” is a mellow bossa nova. “That Was Then” is a slow Afro-Cuban danzon and “Bright Eyes” moves all over the place rhythmically.

Pollace’s original work and her arrangements are clear demonstrations of the ore to mined in Latin music.

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