Saturday, April 7, 2012

CDs of Note - Short Takes

A closer look at new CDs by Esparanza Spalding, Omar Sosa and Paolo Fresu, Edmar Castaneda and Stacey Kent....

Esparanza Spalding, Radio Music Society (Heads Up)
The singer-bassist continues to straddle the jazz and adult pop line very well. In a pleasant way, she has produced a recording that is far more original pop- and soul-oriented music than jazz. That’s not unexpected given her 2011 Grammy win as Best New Artist, much to the dismay or outrage of millions of Justin Bieber fans, aka Beliebers. There is a lot of substance on this CD, her fourth in six years. Guest artists include saxophonist Joe Lovano on her remake of Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help It,” singer Lalah Hathaway on “Endangered Species,” and guitarist Lionel Loueke and R&B singer Algebra Blessett on “Black Gold.”

Other participants from the jazz world include drummers Terri Lyne Carrington, Jack DeJohnette and Billy Hart, and singer Gretchen Parlato. Gems here include “”Cinnamon Tree,” “Black Gold” and “Crowned and Kissed,” as well as the cover of Wayne Shorter’s “Endangered Species” to which Spalding added lyrics berating society’s ecological abuse. With this latest effort, Spalding continues to show us that she is the real deal as conceptualist, songwriter and performer. Believe it.
Paolo Fresu and Omar Sosa, Alma (Otá)
Alma is the Spanish word for “soul” – and you’ll find a lot of heart and soul on this session. It consists of eight duets between the Italian trumpeter and the Cuban-born pianist and composer Sosa, who now lives in Spain. Jacques Morelenbaum joins them on the four other tracks to create a most intriguing piano-trumpet-cello trio. The Brazilian cellist played a significant role on Sosa’s prior big band recording Ceremony.Sosa contributed a half-dozen tunes, Fresu wrote three and they collaborated on two others. The lone cover on the CD is their joyous take on Paul Simon’s “Under African Skies.” Personal favorites include the title track, “Angustia,” “Old D Blues” and “S’Inguldu.” Their cohesion, use of harmony, percussion touches and sonic effects are masterful.

Edmar Castaneda, Double Portion (Arpa y Vaz)
Colombia’s most unusual export to the U.S. music scene is a marvel. That is the case whether your eyes are open to witness the effervescent joy in his playing, or closed so you can focus on the sonic beauty of his sound on classical harp and his smaller Colombian folk harp. Bandleader Paquito D’Rivera has used Castaneda frequently with his Panamericana band, usually joking: “I don’t know why I bring him out, he steals the show.” But he’s usually right. Double Portion features Castaneda in four contexts: solo on five tracks, and in intriguing duets on the others. The duets are with either pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón or mandolin player Hamilton de Holanda. All three collaborations are gems in these explorations of Castaneda originals. Take particular note of the title track, which features Rubalcaba, and “A Harp in New York,” which teams Castaneda with Zenón’s energetic and stunning horn work. This is an April 17 release.

Stacey Kent, Dreamer in concert (Blue Note)
Singer Stacey Kent, American by birth but based in London, is a captivating singer who focuses on standards and fresh songs that she is helping develop into new standards. Dreamer in concert is her first live CD, recorded last year at La Cigale in Paris. She digs into both American and French classics here. But it is the standards-under-construction that really caught my ears. One is “Breakfast on the Morning Tram,” the title track from her 2007 CD, which was composed by her husband, saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, with lyrics by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. The other two are also Tomlinson compositions. “Postcard Lovers” features Ishiguro lyrics and “O Comboio” features lyrics from Portuguese poet Antonio Ladeira. Kent sings the latter tune in Portuguese. This is a June 5 U.S. release.

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