Now that the exploration of the relationships between different ethnic musics and modern-day improvised music has reached the first of- hopefully-many crescendos, forward-looking artists such as the Canadian trumpeter David Buchbinder
have been looking at the many intersections of disparate-seeming ethnic musics through the same lens. Never mind the fact that a lot of Jewish musicians were directly involved in the Latin-dance and Exotica fads of the mid-20th Century. There's nary a trace of cheese or nostalgia here. Duran's and Buchbinder's shared obsession is focused on authentic Afro-Cuban music and the hyriad ethnic musics of the Middle East, and as unlikely as it may seem, there are rich parallels and a significant shared history between these two genres. Walk To The Sea is the second recording by the co-operative Odessa / Havana ensemble, and it is just as stunning than his first, eponymous effort (Tzadik, 2007). Like its predecessor, Walk to the Sea hews somewhat closer to the Latin Jazz end of the spectrum, though the Judaic music component is significant, beautifully integrated and far more than an exotic patina. The addition of vocals, in particular, bring a totally new dimension to Buchbinder's music whereby the Judaic and Latin elements mingle and interchange freely. A purely theoretical point of reference would be one of Kip Hanrahan
's Masada tunes. To wit, "La Roza Una" and "Las Roza Dos" feature the mighty voice of the Egyptian-born Maryem Hassan Tollar singing with phrasing that is unmistakably Middle Eastern. Michal Cohen, the vocalist on "Landarico," is almost the other side of the coin. A graduate of Berklee, Cohen's singing is more palpably connected to jazz, though obviously conversant with traditional Middle Eastern forms. Both voices provide a signature sound emblematic of Odessa / Havana's overall musical approach. It's even more interesting that "Landarico" moves back and forth between a more-or-less traditional- sounding, incantatory vocal section and a frenetic madcap modern jazz sequence that all but tumbles over into ecstatic free improvisation. On several tracks, Buchbinder's arrangements seamlessly blend the Cuban tres and bata with oud, dumbek and riq. The beauty of it is the fact that nothing about Buchbinder's music is watered-down or compromised in the process of negotiating this cross- cultural fusion.
Speaking of fusion, the sounds of funk and jazz loom large throughout this album, in the best possible ways. "Aventura Judia" floats a jazzy ethnic melody over a traditional Latin rhythm that gets a chunk of funky energy from Mark Kelso
's bass steps forward on the title track, joined by oud and dumbeq before the rest of the band kicks in. Here, as on the opening "Coffee Works," the approach is to work with Middle Eastern rhythms using a Latin jazz approach; the descarga goes to Cairo, if you will, though Buchbinder's and Duran's vision is quite a bit deeper than that.
Though Odessa / Havana's previous album was recorded 7 years ago, several key players have stuck around for Walk to the Sea. Besides Buchbinder Duran, and Kelso, string player Aleksandar Gajic also returns. The core of the group, therefore, has the grace and telepathy of experience. The key new member is ace saxophonist John Johnson
of the Great White North, perhaps-Johnson shows considerable stylistic range here and does everything but play out of a studio- facile bag of tricks. His big, raw tenor is right out of the soul-jazz tradition-think Stanley Turrentine
-but the emotional pitch and rhythmic footing of his solos on "Valentin," "Aventura Judia," and "Landarico" are spot-on. Duran is the sort of dynamic, percussive piano virtuoso that one thinks of whenever the phrase "Cuban pianist" comes up in conversation. Buchbinder is perhaps the least-heralded player here, given the quantity and quality of his solos. He has a hard, clear, clarion almost classical trumpet sound, but with a jazzman's phrasing and whip-smart spontaneity. Violinist Gajic comes from the classical world, but improvises here with the wild abandon of a crazed Gypsy.
Walk to the Sea is simply wonderful multi- cultural musical experiment; one that fires on all cylinders from beginning to end.
Track Listing: Coffee Works; Landarico; Aventura Judia; La Roza Una; Walk To The Sea;
La Roza Dos; Valentin; Calliope; Conja.