Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"In Session" with Brazilian Drummer Adriano Santos and his Quartet

Artist: Adriano Santos
In Session

CD: Adriano Santos “ In Session” (KingJazzAd Music)

From the opening bars of this surprising album you can tell there is something special going on, you can’t stop moving to its alluring beat. With a careful selection of  exciting compositions from some of  Brazil’s most accomplished composers, drummer and percussionist Adriano Santos has produced a stirring, masterfully executed and throughly entertaining compilation of Brazilian jazz.

Playing drums from an early age in Brazil, he took his music seriously. In 1988 he was accepted  to the prestigious Berklee School of Music and moved to Boston to attend, graduating with a BA in film scoring. Moving to New York in  1995, he attended City College for his masters, where he had ensemble lessons with the great bassist Ron Carter. He has played with a variety of artists including  Claudio Roditi, Helio Alves, Hendrik Meurkens and Bill Charlap.

On this, his debut album as a leader, he has trolled the waters of Brazilian music with compositions by Milton Nasciemento, influential drummer Airto Moreira, and composer Toninho Horta. Opening with Raul Mascaranhas’ up lifting “Sabor Carioca”, David Binney’s free flowing alto serves notice that this is a cooking session.  Binney’s playing throughout this album is a delight as he lets himself be taken over by the infectious nature of these Latin grooves. Alves is no stranger to these Afro-Cuban inspired rythmns and his piano work is superlative. Santos and Ambrosio pulsate like one beating heart as Dendê adds splashes of color with his percussive arsenal.

Native DancerNasciemento’s “ From the Lonely Afternoons” takes me back to his fine work with Wayne Shorter on “Native Dancer”, a seminal album. Dendê and Santos brilliantly re-create the humid, verdant sounds of the rain forests teeming with unseen life. Binney’s alto saxophone is not as exotic sounding as Shorter’s original soprano voice, but has its own special intensity and feeling of wanderlust. The only thing that is missing is Milton’s soaring falsetto voice.

On the pensive Horta composition “ De Ton Pra Tom” , Binney, switching to soprano, plays with a searching Shorteresque quality that is both comtemplative and joyful. Alves is particulary lyrical on his piano solo.

Airto’s  “Xibaba”  is the perfect vehicle for Santos indefatiguable rythmic drive. The driving force of his relentless drums with Ambrosio’s pulsating bass propels this tune. Some playful call and response between Binney and Alves lead to a mutli-phonic percussion based coda where Denedê and Santos weave in brilliant interplay.

On  J.T. Mierelles’ “Contemplação”,  the slow building samba tempo is introduced by the bouyant bass of Ambrosio, with deftly floating chords by Alves, followed by a simple statement of the lilting melody by Alves and Binney.  Behind Santos steady pulse, Alves builds on an increasingly interesting piano solo, that is both Latin and bluesy in its essence. This sets the stage for what maybe Binney’s most exhuberhant solo of the album. The character of Binney’s alto solo is warm, liquid and intense. He  successively builds the heat with each measure. The passion that pours from his horn has some of that rare Argentinian sensuality of Gato Barbieri at his best, incendiary. You won’t stop shaking your head and tapping your feet to this captivating song.

The album concludes with three songs by lesser known Brazilian composers. The fusion-like “Pro Zeca”  by Victor Assis Brasil, where  Chick Corea’s influence on Alves is strongly present. David Binney’s powerful saxophone play  could be a stand-in for the late great Joe Farrell’s work during his Return to Forever days.  Moacir Santos’
“Amphibious” , has a fetive Carnival sound to it. The final song is a  
Caymmi & Pinheiro composition  “Ninho da Vespa”  with some stirring piano work by Alves on top of Santos ride cymbal and stacatto trap work.

Adriano Santos “In Session” is an exceptionally listenable album even after repeat plays. A fine debut effort from this astute Brazilian drummer.

Musicians: Andriano Santos (Drums & Percussion); David Binney (Alto Saxophone); Helio Alves ( piano); David Ambrosio ( Acoustic Bass); Dendê (Percussion).

Tracks: Sabor Carioca; From The Lonely Afternoons; De Ton Pra Tom; Xibaba; Contemplacao; Pro Zeca; Amphibious; Ninho Da Vespa.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

With "Due Reverence" Ralph Bowen's Latest Release

Artist: Ralph Bowen

Due Reverence 
There are many fine musicians who have found a home in academia, plying their trade by teaching and inspiring the latest crop of up and coming jazzers, occasionally coming out to play for the general public as a sideman or leader. Many seem to possess technical acuity that is almost mind-boggling, along with a healthy respect for those who have laid the groundwork before them. Ralph Bowen is one such educator who should definitely get out and play more often for all of our benefit. He has been an associate professor of jazz studies at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey since 1990. Along the way he has played with Horace Silver and Andy Bey as well as a myriad of other artists. On his latest Positone release, “Due Reverence” he continues where he left off from his last fine album “Dedicated”, both in thematic content and band personnel.  He is once again joined by the formidable piano less rhythm section of Adam Rodgers on guitar, John Patitucci on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums, with trumpeter Sean Jones joining him on the front line for one song , the powerful “Mr. Scott”.

Bowen’s masterful control, unerring tone and intelligent compositional talent are clearly impressive. The album’s five carefully crafted tunes run just a mere 43 minutes long, but there is never a lapse in the quality or execution. Each song is dedicated to a musician who in someway was influential to Bowen. The lead off song “Less is More” -a dedication to the guitarist Ted Dunbar- is introduced by Spartan guitar lines from Rodgers, a force on guitar that is clearly coming into his own. After the brief intro, we are lead into a beautiful duet, impeccably executed on arco bass line by John Patitucci accompanying a soaring Bowen on tonally flawless tenor. The main theme is a familiar refrain, again briefly stated, before Bowen climbs to his upper register with an ease and conviction that is purposeful and resolute.  On  “This One’s for Bob” – a dedication to saxophonist Bob Mintzer-Bowen rips out of the gate with a waterfall of bop oriented

crescendos that  seem to flow from his horn like a geyser of saturated steam. Rodgers shows off some daunting speed and agility, as Sanchez’s oblique drumming carries the quick pace with an exuberance and grace that is a highlight. Bowen’s execution of the complex vamp is nothing short of breathtaking in its precision.

The bouncy “Phil-osphy” is a dedication to Canadian clarinetist and educator Phil Nimons. Bowen’s saxophone has wonderful buoyancy that glides over the changes in a most unselfconscious unpredictable way. Adam Rodgers' angular solos are quite fluid and inventive, but it is his def t accompaniment that has grown most impressively. Patitucci is clearly in his element on this tune, offering as grooving a bass solo as I have heard in a long time. Its just swings with a palpable passion, inspiring Sanchez’s to his own highly crafted syncopated solo. As the song returns to Bowen climbing up the chart at the coda, it is his leadership that rings out.

One the most memorable song of the album is the fiery “ Mr. Scott” with the addition to the front line of the incendiary trumpet of Sean Jones. Mr. Scott refers to James Scott another unsung educator that taught flute at Rutgers, Indiana and University of North Texas and pioneered breathing techniques on woodwinds. Here Bowen’s tone is pure and flowing. The cascade of notes he is able to pour from his horn demonstrates exceptional breath control. Sean Jones brings a high-energy, angular voice to the music that retains a compatible fluidity and inventive direction that contrasts nicely with Bowen’s own more sensuous voice . Sanchez and Patitucci move the music perfectly, creating a constant state of restlessness on which Bowen’s tenor can offer a forceful direction and a bit of a respite.

Third Stone From the SunThe final selection of the cd “Points Encountered” –dedicated to flautist, innovator Robert Dick, who was once described as the Jimi Hendrix of flute- features an extended solo by Rodgers, that takes us on a circuitous route up and down ascending and descending alleys of notes that he explores with no seemingly particular direction in mind. Bowen ends with a brilliantly executed, controlled flutter that fades into nothingness.

After two top notch releases “Dedicated” and now “Due Reverence”, Bowen is bound to become a better-known name to mainstream jazz fans who appreciate a dedicated artist of formidable ability and uncompromising taste.

Tracks: Less is More; This One’s For Bob; Phil-osophy; Mr. Scott;  Points Encountered
Musicians: Ralph Bowen (tenor saxophone); Sean Jones (trumpet); Adam Rodgers( guitar); John Patitucci (bass); Antonio Sanchez (drums).

Recorded:  Systems Two, Brooklyn, NY  2010

All Compositions by Ralph Bowen

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Following a Dream: A Hike with My Son on The Cinqueterre Trail In Liguria , Italy


I just recently returned from a trip to Italy were I joined my son Nick to fulfill a long time dream to hike the Cinque Terre trail. For those who are not aware of this Italian beauty-the Sophia Loren of nature hikes- the Cinque Terre is a national park (Parco de Nazzionale della Cinque Terre) that borders on the Gulf of Genoa-part of the Mediterranean Sea on the Italian Riviera- between La Spezia and Genoa in the province of Liguria. The hike was breathtakingly beautiful. Experiencing the five villages- Riomagiorre, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso- from within each village and from the multiple vantage points along the trail, was pure magic.

Many years ago, I found a particularly fetching photograph of the village of Manarola, drenched in the diffuse, orange tinted sunlight of the early evening. It was this picture, ripped from one of those cheap giveaway calendars some twelve years ago, which I plastered to my office wall with what a friend of mine likes to call “intention”. I would often time gaze at the mysterious looking hideaway. I mused about the craggy coastline with it pastel colored residences pinned precariously against the cliffs floating in suspension over the surrounding azure colored sea. I wondered in those self-indulgent moments, between the responsibilities of work and family, what it might be like to wander those steep, serpentine streets. I imagined myself idyllically meandering along cobblestone alleys. There, residents would lean out of second story windows, pinning bleached laundry to air from clotheslines suspended to take advantage of the sea breezes.
There, plump bright red tomatoes of unbelievable beauty and unimaginable succulence copiously adorned the displays stands of local vendors.

Olive oil would be so light, aromatic and tasty that you could almost drink it like an aperitif. Blood oranges would burst from flaming dimpled skins revealing the exotic ruby color of the luscious fruit inside. In my musings I would climb up the manicured cliffs, along terraced stone steps that lead to the neatly arranged plots accessible only by foot. There, locals would have judiciously grown olives, oranges, lemons and chestnuts for generations.
Life had a simple cadence that had nothing to do with how fast something needed to be done. That picture on my wall represented a dream that eventually had to either be realized in all its glory or dispelled as a true fantasy that existed only in my mind. As it turns it out it proved to be a little of both.

ROAST PORK ANYONE? We made our way to our starting point, Riomaggiore at the southern most end of the Cinqueterre trail. After a four-hour train journey from Rome to La Spezia, with a connection to Riomaggiore, we found our way to a less than inviting, barely tolerable dwelling with a name that was full of ironic hyperbole- “La Dolce Vita” apartments. After a day’s worth of travel, we settled into our damp accommodations, to explore the first of five towns that famously make up this area. I began to realize how really compact these villages are. The population of Riomagiore in 2008 was listed at 1694 in an area of 3.9 square miles.

To my son and I it felt more like a town of several hundred in the village area where we stayed. With one main street, it offered a few cafes, several restaurants, a bar, a Laundromat, several retail shops and two local markets. Freshly caught fish and shellfish were delivered daily early morning by truck to local vendors and restaurants. A great deal of homes seemed to have rooms available for rent and depending on your budget you could actually get a view overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean. In our case we got to look out onto a rear alley that featured an outdoor sink on top of a neighboring roof. We were there for the hike not the accommodations and two guys can sleep almost anywhere for two nights, although I sheepishly admit to feeling a bit skeeved out by the permeating dampness of our room.
After an early dinner, which for me was limited to tasty pasta, as I don’t eat seafood, we went to the local bar for a nightcap. The establishment, aptly titled Bar Centrale, featured a solitary selection of bottled brew and a middle aged bar tender who played and sang along to his self-programmed cd player. My twenty three year old son and I sat drinking our weak Nastro Azzurros, and couldn’t help but laugh at the bartender’s baritone mutterings as he repeated the lines “ I got cocaine riding around in my brain” from a reggae sounding version of Luke Jordan’s “Cocaine Blues”. We retired early, raring to start our hike early the next day.

The first part of the trail is the widest and easiest part of the overall journey. Many visitors take the trail just north of Riomaggiore to the lover’s walk section were tradition has it that if you leave a padlock on the trail it will “lock” the bond between your and your loved one for all time. A nice sentiment but not exactly a ritual my son and I were interested in practicing.
There is a pedestrian tunnel that is carved into the hillside in this section and many tourists stop to take pictures looking backward toward Riomaggiore as it projects out into the sea. We continued on the trail toward the second pearl of this string, Manarola.

I could sense myself getting psyched as I contemplated finally realizing my dream, transporting myself into the picture on my wall. As we approached Manarola we were stuck by the contrast between this village and Riomaggiore. Manarola is one of the smallest of the five villages and my dreams of walking through the serpentine streets were quickly vanquished by an unexpected build up of crowds that were traveling to the towns for Easter week holiday. The actual town center was very small with a narrow main street that appeared even tighter than it was with all the tourists milling about the tiny center. After a short perusal of the area we decided to forgo spending too much time lingering here, preferring to view the village from the vantage point of the trail beyond as we continued our hike. In retrospect, I wonder why we spent such a short time in the village, whose image was most responsible for my coming here in the first place. Its beauty was still intact and the gritty reality of the place in no way diminished its charm.
 But in thinking about it now, I believe that subconsciously I had formed my own virtual reality for Manarola, developed over a period of years of gazing at that idyllic calendar picture. Deep down inside I realized that there was no way, if I chose to fully hold it up to scrutiny, that this picturesque village could ever live up to the fantasy I had created. Rather than destroy my myth, I protectively chose to simply pass through it quickly and let it live on unspoiled in my mind.
As we continued on this wonderful adventure the trail started to become noticeably more arduous. The well-traveled path between Manarola and Corniglia meanders up and down the hillsides.

It climbs over ever narrowing trails that are lined on one side by shear cliff walls sprouting spring flora in whites, yellows and violets with an occasional pale green cacti and on the other side precipitous cliffs that glissade down to the craggy shore of the shimmering aquamarine waters of the Gulf of Genoa below. Corniglia is unique amongst the towns of the Cinque Terre in that it juts out into the water on a peninsula-like outcropping, looking from a distance like a jewel set on a rocky pronged setting.
My son Nick, who had known about my desire to hike this area, had actually hiked the trail previously the year before when he was studying for a semester in Rome. Having experienced the beauty first hand he encouraged me to take the time to do the hike with him this year as a celebration of my sixtieth birthday. As we approached Corniglia, he suggested we use the slowly ramping road for a short part of the hike, an offering to my aging knees, to avoid the up and down stairs that he knew the main trail provided.

As we traveled up the slowly elevating road, we were surrounded by groves of fruit bearing lemon and blood orange trees interspersed with olive trees. No part of the steep hills, no matter how seemingly inaccessible, were left fallow. I marveled at the resourcefulness of these rugged people who do not allow the inhospitable terrain to dissuade them from making every inch of this hilly ground agriculturally productive.

As we entered Corniglia we decided that it was time to rest a bit and enjoy a cold Italian beer. More than any of the other four villages, Corniglia seemed to retain a medieval feel.in its small central district.
It was here, on one of the shadowed side streets, we had found a wonderful bakery where the congenial bearded and capped baker warmed up the most delicious a pizza ala pesto that we would experience on the entire trip.The town seemed to be the most removed from the actual water, elevated high above on an outcropping with the steep embankments being cultivated on carefully manicured terraces that cascaded to the shore below. As we left Corniglia we walked through daffodil strewn trails on our way to the village of Vernazza. Nick showed me a little hand painted sign on the side of the trail, surprisingly labeled “beach” in English. The suspicious sign pointed to a knotted rope that required you to rappel down a treacherously steep embankment to get down to the water. Nick made a feint gesture, attempting to grab unto the rope and encouraging me to follow him down to what I deemed was sure destruction. Needless to say, I declined the adventure and continued on the more delineated trail.
It undoubtedly was some Italian native’s idea of a joke, to be played on naïve and unsuspecting American or English tourists. A sure fired way to limit beach access to the only the most daring of intruders.

We approached Vernazza with the intent of stopping for a brief lunch for what was supposed to be a planned rendezvous with my best friend “Doc” and his wife Karen. “Doc”, who lives in New Jersey, was coincidentally traveling these parts with his wife on one part of a thirty-year anniversary vacation in Italy. We had been in contact the day before via cell phone and tentatively set up to meet for lunch in Vernazza. He and Karen were traveling the trail from the Monterosso side and Nick and I would approach from the Corniglia side.
The plan was to call each other from the trail and confirm a time. Despite numerous attempts to reach him that morning we were incommunicado for the entire journey. Not to be deterred, Nick and I stopped at a shore side restaurant in Vernazza. We had a leisurely lunch and a cold beer at an outdoor veranda overlooking the main inlet of the cove that was central to the small village. Vernazza is perhaps the prettiest of all the Cinque Terre villages. The brightly colored orange, yellow, pink and cream stucco houses wrap around the protected shoreline in terraced splendor. The rocky coast, typical of the area, is augmented by a small stretch of bather friendly sandy beach, which became a promenade of sorts for the visiting tourists. It was plastered with small, dry docked fishing boats of every color imaginable. They were carefully stacked and tied off along the sides of embankments that formed the cove. The boats were as much a part of the charm of this picturesque village as they were a practical reminder that fishing the coast was still an essential part of daily life here.
We lingered at our table hoping to somehow run into “Doc” and Karen , but the restaurant began to fill and we didn’t want to wear out our stay. It looked like the prospect of meeting them in Italy was becoming a unlikely. We proceeded along the coast up the trail toward our final destination Monterosso. No sooner had we made our first turn up a steep part of the trail then did we cross paths with “Doc” and Karen. It was a little like Stanley meeting Livingston; two friends meeting thousands of miles from home on a trail somewhere in the woods.
After a few hearty hugs and some high fives we both reveled at the serendipitous resolution of our seemingly ill-fated plans. His phone had died and they had gotten a really late start that morning, jet lagged from the flight of the night before. With the afternoon slowly coming to an end and more of the trail to complete, there was but minutes to stop and socialize. We commemorated the occurrence with some pictures, bid each other adieu and continued on our respective journeys like passing ships.

As the trail continued toward Monterosso it became increasingly narrow and seemingly more dangerous. At times, the two way traffic gave way to alternating one way passage in each direction. Evidence of rock slides that partially blocked the trail became more frequent. As the elevation of the trail increased the shear drop to the shore was much more visibly precipitous.

The trail never became too arduous for an average hiker but I was surprised to see some travelers carrying young children in their arms. The occasional dog passed us by unfazed by the terrain and most people found it exhilarating. A never-ending commanding view of the magnificent azure blue Mediterranean below kept all trail goers in perpetual awe. As we approached Monterosso, which has the largest stretch of beach and is the most built up of the five towns, we could see that our journey was almost coming to an end. The final descent into the village of Monterosso was a series of stone steps that cascaded besides a mountain stream. The rugged stone was very unforgiving on the knees.The steps relentlessly seem to go on forever as they made they’re way down through cultivated groves of lemon, olive and orange trees. When we finally landed at the shoreline there was a large boardwalk that was bustling with people.
Monterosso appeared to be the largest of the five villages with the largest and most developed beach along the coast. The long stretch of dark colored sand was teeming with strollers and sunbathers. At the end of the walk was a designated section of camper trucks that were parked tightly in rows on the northern most part of the beach.There, families and couples were spending the Easter holiday in the sun and sand. As we walked the length of this stretch of the Italian Riviera, we both to a little respite to sit on the beach for a while and let our shoeless feet dangle into the cool blue water.

We were both thoroughly satisfied with our accomplishment and I for one was anxious to down several Advil. The trip, including our stops for lunch and beers, took us about five and one half hours and covered about nine and one half kilometers. We had another celebratory beer at a seaside cafe in Monterosso and made our way back to the train station where we would grab the next train back to Riomaggiore for our last night in the area. For me it was the culmination of one of life’s simple but grand pleasures; to walk in the majesty of the beautiful Italian coastline with my son was an experience I will never forget.