Sofia Koutsovitis: Ojala (2006)
Many of the rhythms are undeniably South American and most of the tunes are sung in either Spanish or Portuguese, but they always carry the feel of jazz beneath the surface. For example, "Ojala," by Cuban trovador Silvio Rodriquez (recently "discovered" and explored by Bobo Stenson on Goodbye and Serenity), combines the Afro-Peruvian festejo rhythm with the Argentine chacarera rhythm. "Gatito e las Penas" is a contemporary Argentine song with a gato rhythm, while "Danca da solidado" is a Brazilian samba. "La nostalgiosa" and "El Silbador" are both Argentine zambas, while "Alma del Pueblo" is an Argentine chacarera.
Koutsovitis' voice sounds effortless, with very little vibrato and absolute pitch control. Mixing these characteristics with a very open vulnerability, she nevertheless manifests a toughness which comes from surety of purpose and direction. Koutsovitis knows what she is about and what she wants to say. Most of the arrangements are by the leader, "with great input from the band."
The band itself is quite restrained and very precise, particularly the rhythm section, as one would expect for music defined by striking rhythmic forms. While trumpeter Jason Palmer (currently with Greg Osby), pianist Leo Genovese, and reedists Adam Schneit and Daniel Blake contribute fine solos, they are mostly blended to produce different and surprising sounds.
Ojala sounds small but possesses a quiet intensity that draws you in, even if you do not understand Spanish or Portuguese, and it will be over before you quite know what happened. Many pleasing details in the arrangements make each tune a unique journey, and Koutsovitis holds everything held together with her strong musical personality.
Koutsovitis' originals ("Gris," "Silence 1," "Silence 2" and "El Suicida") are arguably the most musically exciting tracks on the record, finding her taking the most chances and really letting her jazz side come to the fore. She likes to use space and let the music unfold naturally, although it always seems to have subversive, unpredictable undertones. A euphonious section might dissolve into sharp dissonance, or the rhythmic feel will shift unexpectedly. Many times a vocal line will merge with an instrumental line and become part of the band, instead of fronting it.
"El Suicida," with words by Jorge Luis Borges (see also Ken Hatfield's String Theory) is particularly intense and full of musical emotion, grabbing attention with pungent dissonances and complex arrangements which underline the emotional topic. Percussionist Jorge Perez Albela contributes the arrangement of "You Don't Know What Love Is" which follows, enabling Koutsivitis to show us her chanteuse side in English.
Ojala is a very fine debut from an extremely talented singer, composer and arranger, marking Koutsovitis as someone to watch.
Ojala is available from CD Baby on the web.
Track Listing: Ojala; Gatico e las Penas; Gris; Danca da Solidao; Silence 1; Silence 2; La Nostalgiosa; Alma del Pueblo; El Suicida; You Don't Know What Love Is; El Silbador.
Personnel: Sofia Koutsovitis: vocals, arranger; Jason Palmer: trumper; Adam Schneit: alto saxophone, clarinet; Daniel Blake: tenor and soprano saxophone; Leo Genovese: piano; Jorge Roeder: bass; Richie Barshay: drums; Jorge Perez Albela: percussion; guests: Jamey Haddad: percussion; Reynaldo de Jesus: percussion; Felipe Salles: soprano saxophone.
Record Label: Self Produced