Three Pairs of Aces - Wild!
Corina Bartra & Her Azu Project
Afro Peruvian Jazz Celebration
Blue Spiral Music
Corina Bartra does more than compose and sing in a style that merges music from North and South Americashe lives this style by splitting her days between her native Peru and adopted hometown of New York City. Celebration, her fifth release, blends traditional Afro-Peruvian music with contemporary vocal and instrumental jazz, a fusion brought to life by her band of all-stars from both Peru and NYC. You cannot tell which passages are composed and which are improvised. Neither can you tell, except for the obvious folk songs, the Afro-Peruvian parts from the jazz parts. It's mostly one sprawling, ambitious, joyful Celebration.
Bartra's original "You Took Me By Surprise" exemplifies her cultural cocktail: it's full of surprising twists and turns based in the rhythmic innovations of be-bop. This is especially true in its central passage, where Bartra opens the melodic window and encourages saxophonist Xavier Perez to sail up and away; yet this rhythm continually flows thick and hot in the lusty spirit of Latin music. The moody and blue "Puente de los Suspiros" radiates a different fusion mood by synthesizing Latin rhythm and breathy, Stan Getz-like jazz saxophone.
Bandleader Bartra also remembers to honor traditional native music. The Afro-Peruvian folk song "Chacombo" radiates with the tribal spirit of communal creation, full of celebratory chants and exhortations, and she knits together several other traditional melodies into a compiled "Afro-Peruvian Folk Song" that receives a stellar jazz reading from pianist Cliff Korman and the rhythm section.
Meanwhile, Bartra honors two familiar standards with unique new treatments. She offers one of the freest versions of "Stella by Starlight" that you'll ever hear. As the music ebbs and flowswith drummer Vince Cherico spiraling out, then pulling in, ripples of rhythmit sometimes seems to disconnect completely from her vocal. The singer subsequently wrings every ounce of energy and emotion out of "You Don't Know What Love Is." Her hurting delivery of lines like "you don't know how hearts burn/for love that cannot live but never dies" leaves no doubt that Bartra knows the meaning of the blues.
This set culminates with "Yambambo," so intense it almost melts into liquid heat. The volcanic eruption of percussion, flute solos and vocal chanting help make Afro-Peruvian Jazz Celebration genuinely worthy of such a title.
The musical state of mind known as TriBeCaStan was co-founded by multi-instrumentalist John Kruth (whose more colorful credits include "banshee mandolin" for rock bands the Meat Puppets and Violent Femmes) and ethnomusicologist Jeff Green. Their forces were joined, in their march toward musical independence, by bassist Dave Dreiwitz (from the band Ween), and multi-reed man Matt Darriau (The Klezmatics).
Strange Cousin builds relationships between unfamiliar international musical relatives. Even while charting new musical territory, Kruth recognizes that TriBeCaStan does not quite go where no one has gone before. "People like Don Cherry and Yusef Lateef were just as much folk musicians as jazz musicians. They are the epitome of what we're striving for," Kruth explains. "They took folk melodies from around the world and improvised on them."
Opening and closing bookends composed by modern jazzmen Cherry and Sonny Sharrock instantly illustrate Kruth's point. Cherry based his "Mopti" on a song from a village in Mali; TriBeCaStan retains the tune's Oriental sound with bamboo flute, but expands this sound by arranging the flute in a rhythm strummed by an old country banjo, with harmonica on harmony. Sharrock's "Many Mansions" circles back on itself and incorporates a Steve Turre solo on shells that would sound crazy in just about any other jurisdiction except TriBeCaStan.
Two other titles honor jazz, albeit in music that goes far beyond it: "Yusef's Motif," a worthy tribute with a unique sonic combination of African flute and Slovakian shepherd's pipe; and "Princess Rahsaanica," with a flute melody that evokes the sound of Roland Kirk, along with background trombone and other instruments that honor his adventurous and playful spirit. (Here's hoping that TriBeCaStan honors late producer Joel Dorn's entire Atlantic jazz roster!)
Other stops between these mileposts also lead to exotic destinations. "Dancing Girls (of TriBeCaStan)" grows from hand cymbals and percussion into a colorful travelogue with flute and strings. That song twirls into a "Tribecastani Traffic Jam," which organizes the sounds of a traffic jam and pileup into a chaotic, noisy melody. In "The Flowers," Darriau's klezmer clarinet sound dances above its rhythmic movement, just like that famous Fiddler on the Roof.