New releases from two very different jazz musicians show how paying tribute to one significant composer can bring out the creative best in today’s artists.
Albare: Albare Plays Jobim
Could there ever be a bad day to listen to a new take on the songs of Antonio Carlos Jobim? Blind jazz guitarist Albare find fertile new ground in the bossa nova landscape on his new album Albare Plays Jobim, a collaboration with pianist and string arranger Joe Chindamo and an excellent rhythm section.
When the strings first enter on the opening track, “One Note Samba,” you might, for a split second, wonder if you’re on the ground floor of something syrupy. Quickly, though, the ear recognizes that these are tasteful and highly original arrangements that bow to the songs’ inherent wonders while opening up new vistas.
Albare’s guitar is earthy and up-front, backed ably by bassist Ricardo “Ricky” Rodriguez, drummer Antonio Sanchez, Chindamo on piano, and those distant-sounding strings. Album highlights include an edgy “Chega de Saudade” and a silken yet restless version of the classic ballad “Orfeu Negro.” (Albare writes that he discovered Jobim through the film of that name, and the track certainly takes me back to that movie’s sad carnivale magic.)
Albare’s spidery solos stand out on “Desafinado” and on a sweeping “Águas de Março,” where Chindamo’s keyboard work also shines. A playfully spacey “Double Rainbow” has prominent roles for the strings and for Sanchez’s trap kit artistry.
In general, the combination of Sanchez’s soft Latin style on the drums, the often fascinating and sometimes eccentric string arrangements, and Albare’s chunky six-string style gives the album a sweet and distinctive sound, well worth a listen if you have any liking for Jobim or for jazz guitar.
John Di Martino: Passion Flower: The Music of Billy Strayhorn
Pianist John Di Martino dives deep into the catalog of Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967) on his new album. Long known for his association with Duke Ellington, Strayhorn and his work have come into their own in latter-day decades as more top musicians focus on his songs. For this tribute Di Martino recruited leading jazz lights, including tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. The result is a gem of an album.
Immediately, from Boris Kozlov’s introductory bass line in the opening selection, “Johnny Come Lately,” we know we’re in solid hands. In these 14 tracks it’s easy to get swept up in Alexander’s melodic, gently playful solos, lean in to Lewis Nash’s exquisite brushwork, groove to Kozlov’s bass, and lean back into Di Martino’s orchid show of subtle piano artistry. There isn’t a lazy moment, despite the numerous ballads.
Raul Midón’s smooth, intently expressive guest vocals on the forever fascinating “Lush Life” is a small revelation in itself. Among the sessions other high points: Alexander’s unaccompanied solo on “Chelsea Bridge”; Kozlov’s compact, fluid solos on the waltzing “Daydream” and the softly redolent “Passion Flower”; Lewis’s sure-footed feature “Rain Check”; a kaleidoscopically deconstructed “Take the A Train”; Di Martino’s romance-laced solo version of “Lotus Blossom”; and the band’s artful use of dots of space in “Absinthe,” one of my favorite tracks despite a disappointing fadeout.
Throughout, Billy Strayhorn’s gift for touching the heart with soulful meldings of melody, harmonics, and deep understanding of the foundations of jazz shines forth, here burnished and reimagined in the nicest sort of way.