Rivorecords: Blue Notes from Buenos Aires
Moving beyond musical theory, the term is most commonly associated with the groundbreaking jazz label Blue Note, founded in 1939 by Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff.
The label epitomizes the golden age of modern jazz in the 50's and 60's where a perfect balance was struck between tradition, in the shape of blues and standards, and a personal expression that allowed the music to flourish into highly sophisticated art, without losing the basic bodily feeling of the groove.
To many people, Blue Note still remains the gold standard of jazz, and this is also the case with Justo Lo Prete, who runs the exquisite Argentinian jazz label Rivorecords, which was formed in August, 2010. As he says: "We mainly record standards and try to recover some of the things jazz had in the '50s and early '60s, as regards the aesthetics of the music, the recording techniqueall musicians are recorded in the same room and we choose the best take, without editingand to a certain extent the cover art, design and concept of those records."
Taking a look at a record like trumpeter Mariano Loiacono's What's New, it is clear that there's an occasional touch of inspiration from Blue Note's famous graphic designer Reid Miles, but the releases on Rivorecords have their own distinctive style and approach, as Lo Prete explains: "I really like to be involved in that specific aspect, as I have been looking at record covers and booklets for the last 25 years! I consider myself responsible for this approach, with its hits and misses. As you can see, I favor the musicians' photo aesthetic on the CD covers, and in the inside or the cardboard triptychs. Horacio Sbaraglia is the label's photographeralmost all of the cover/inside CD photographs were taken by him. Horacio and Carlos Melero (engineering) deserve special mention, as both work with loving care, and completely ad honorem for Rivorecords. As for liner notes, I generally find them quite uninteresting. From my point of view, to write an interesting liner note, which adds useful or valuable information, is VERY difficult; so with the internet overloaded with information, just listen to the music and enjoy it. Keep things simple. Just jazz standards; no science behind, I guess."
Francisco Lo Vuolo: Segment recording session: L to R: Cristian Bortoli, Lo Vuolo, Eloy Michelini.
As a label owner and producer, Lo Prete has an active approach to record making: "I try to get involved at all stages of the process, from the moment we start to envision the record to the day it is launched. Although I stick to these rather strict principles, I try to give musicians as much freedom as I can when it comes to choosing the repertoire and in some strictly musical aspectstunes and arrangements and so on. As I am not a musician, I give them the point of view of a "regular" listener, and that helps to strike a balance between the opinion of a professional and that of an amateur. I think that is a healthy aspect."
When it comes to recording, a particular studio is preferred: "Rivorecords has recorded all of its studio productions in SoundRec, a studio I feel comfortable with. And the team of Ricardo Sanz, main engineer at SoundRec, and Carlos Melero, a very nice man and close friend with tons of experience and a huge ear, work wonders as far as the sound I have in mind, and in a very relaxed atmosphere. I really think that is reflected in the music. I tend to favor an in-studio-live approach."
Lo Prete highlights pianist Paula Shocron and trumpeter Mariano Loiacono as two musicians who have helped to shape the label's sound, but as he says: "I feel comfortable with most of the records, and the musicians I´ve worked with so far. I really like piano trios, and I´m very happy with the piano trios Paula Shocron, Ernesto Jodos and Francisco Lo Vuolo made for Rivorecords. Maybe the latter is not as well-known as Paula and Ernesto, but he is a very very sensitive player."
Every record in the catalog matters, but as Lo Prete says: "Well just to avoid answering the usual "every record I´ve produced holds a special place..." I will say that I´m a bit biased towards Gustavo Musso´s Our Song, as I have always dreamed about "making" some kind of Art Pepper tribute thing, and Gustavo turned out to share my view, and came up with a beautiful, and beautifully short, record. To be fair, also being able to bring the great Kirk Lightsey from Parisin association with the city of Buenos Aires Government, for the city´s Jazz Festivaland recording him in a very nice venue was great; finally, saxophonist Carlos Lastra's double live CD was a personal wish."
Speaking of the ideal record in more general terms, he says that it is: "The one that strikes a balance between melody, swing, spontaneitywhich, I think, can be achieved even when the musicians play arrangements, as opposed to the jam conceptand the instrumental quality of the musicians."
Paula Shocron: Serenade in Blue recording session: L to R: J. M. Bayón, Shocron, Eloy Michelini.
The audience seems to agree with Lo Prete's definition of a good record because so far the reception has been positive: "The label has been received in a quite enthusiastic way here in Argentina, where conditions are very difficult for jazz musicians. Jazz fans, in general, are very appreciative, and are always encouraging us. With honorable exceptions, the media pays little attention to jazz recordings."
Elaborating on the climate of jazz in Argentine and Buenos Aires in particular, he says: "In Buenos Aires the climate is good. A lot of tourists visit this city, which, somehow, strengthens such climate. However, the jazz world is "small" compared to that of any other popular music. I think it happens in any part of the world. So there are not many labels around; it also seems to me that the fact that the industry is at a stage where there is a lot of uncertainty about the format of the music does not help. Also, in Buenos Aires, there are not many clubs featuring only jazz music. The economic issue does not help either. Setting up a club involves tackling many economic and administrative problems. For example, a decent piano costs quite a fortune in Argentina. There are really good musicians across the country. Technically speaking, musicians have grown more professional in the last few years. Outside Buenos Aires, things are tough, even in large and important cities."
While Buenos Aires has a good climate for jazz, it still isn't enough to make a living out of jazz, as Justo Lo Prete says emphatically: "Of course, it is impossible to make a living out of jazz by means of running a jazz label that loves to release music via a physical format. No way. Not in this country, at least. I'm a lawyer and I work hard every day."
Mariano Loiacono: What's New? recording session: L to R: Sebastián Loiacono, Mariano Loiacono, Gustavo Musso, Francisco Lo Vuolo, Jerónimo Carmona, Pepi Taveira.
Still, considering the limitations, Rivorecords has secured good distribution: "Rivorecords is being distributed by DBN, the largest distributor in our country. It has allowed the label to be in lots of places of difficult access for an independent 'handcrafted' company."
With distribution in place and the economic ambitions toned down, Justo Lo Prete knows what he wants: "Well, my goal is to make "sincere" records, nicely packaged; nothing too ambitious, actually."
So far, Rivorecords has released twelve records, with more on the way: "If everything goes well, Paula Shocron's solo piano comes next, recorded on a very nice Fazioli piano, the same we used for the excellent sounding, just released Adrian Iaies solo piano CD, and also a nonet recording lead by Mariano Loiacono."
Summing up the situation of the label, he says: "I am satisfied with what I have achieved so far. I have done it with love, dedication and great care. I have no long-term plans for the label. I just want to show the genre to other people in this country, and somehow be of some help to many of the really good musicians we have in Argentina deserving to be better known."
There certainly is a lot of jazz talent in Argentina and the proof can be found in the catalog of Rivorecords where the blue notes abound and the spirit of the '50s and '60s is revived.
Solo Piano en Argentina
While Rivorecords has a clear preference for Argentinian musicians, an important exception is the solo record of American pianist Kirk Lightsey, which captures him in a stellar performance at Buenos Aires Jazz Festival 2012.
Lightsey's roots are firmly planted in the hard bop idiom, but he has also worked as a session pianist for Motown Records in the 60s. Rhythm 'n' blues is in his blood and this becomes evident in the gutsy, rollicking outbursts that suddenly break through the contemplative mood in his version of Wayne Shorter's ballad "Infant Eyes." Lightsey has the whole history of jazz and blues in his hands and is able to use it at will in epic explorations of depth and variety. His percussive touch on the piano brings out the rhythmical elements in the instrument and makes it dance, but he is also capable of gently nurturing a pretty melody without becoming saccharine.
What is most impressive, however, is how he changes organically between styles and tempi while keeping track of the melody. His own originals "Habiba" and "Heaven Dance" hold up well in the company of compositions by Dave Brubeck, Tony Williams and Phil Woods. Here is an old master at work that sounds as if he has discovered his second youth.
Goodbye: Solo Piano
Another solo piano session on Rivorecords is Goodbye by Adrián Iaies. While not as eclectic and fiery as Lightsey, Iaies concentrates on conjuring a pensive mood, but there's still plenty of room for sunshine when he gives a playful version of the standard "When You're Smiling" with lines full of light, sudden stops and abrupt turns.
Iaies greatest strength is his clarity of tone, which truly shines on the Fazioli piano praised by Justo Lo Prete. His improvisations are a joy to follow as he teases out melodies with bell-like clarity and emotional depth. He is a man completely in tune with his instrument. This is also underlined in the beautiful foldout photography that adorns the interior of the album. A close-up of the piano strings resembles an ancient harp and Iaies is just like a poet who plays his "lyre" with poise. On this album, he is not an epic improviser. Most of the pieces clock in at well under five minutes, but he has the ability to make the music short and profound.
Many of the compositions on the album are associated with Frank Sinatra and one of his most prominent arrangers, Gordon Jenkins, provides the title track whose sweeping harmonic landscape, imbued with bittersweet nostalgia, is a suitable way to end the session.
Recently, Justo Lo Prete has taken a liking to solo piano recordings, and with a solo record by pianist Paula Shocron in the pipeline, that passion is guaranteed to continue, but he also has a soft spot for piano trios and with Ernesto Jodos' trio, he has recorded one of the best.
Pianist Jodos is one of the most prominent figures on the jazz scene in Buenos Aires and has won numerous awards and played with the likes of Billy Harper, Chris Cheek and Ingrid Jensen. He is also the director of the jazz program at Superior Conservatory of Music Manuel de Falla.
All these accolades aside, what really comes across on Light Blue, his record with bassist Jerónimo Carmona and drummer Pepi Taveira, is the unspoiled joy of playing music together. Like the title implies, the touch is light and swinging, but with a shade of blue.
Strong, but lesser known gems from Charlie Parker ("Dewey Square") and Thelonious Monk ("Light Blue") sit well next to tried and true standards like "Wrap Your Troubles In dreams" which is played in an unconventional version where the piano at times sounds like a gong from an ancient temple. It is also refreshing that the rarely heard pianist-composer Herbie Nichols is dug out on an elegant interpretation of "Step Tempest" where Nichols' composition benefits from the light swinging touch of a trio that could be described as playful modernists.
Francisco Lo Vuolo
Pianist Francisco Lo Vuolo isn't as well-known as Ernesto Jodos or Paula Shocron, two of the label's most prominent musicians, but he is a rising star that Lo Prete believes is one of the greatest jazz piano talents in Argentina.
Segment, his trio album with bassist Cristian Bortoli and drummer Eloy Michelini, offers ample proof of Lo Vuolo's skill as an improviser, interpreter and leader. His idiosyncratic versions of old warhorses like "Yesterdays" and "My Funny Valentine" are nothing less than stunning.
Those familiar with Ben Webster's tender reading of Jerome Kern's ballad might be surprised when they hear his up-tempo version that brings in a fountain of melodic ideas in the middle of an infectious groove driven by Michelini's dynamic playing on the ride cymbals.
Vuolo's solo piano exploration of "My Funny Valentine," which closes the set, isn't as controversial as his take on "Yesterdays," but it adds some interesting harmonies and finds its way into the emotional core of the tune where a fragile beauty is allowed to blossom.
The strength of Segment isn't only that it finds a poignant urgency in melodies that have been played many times, but it also digs out some lesser known jewels like the title track, a free-wheeling bop-groove penned by Charlie Parker, and the swinging elegance of "Local 47" that highlights the compositional skills of unsung saxophonist Warne Marsh.
Whether exploring well-trodden pathways or the roads less travelled, Segment shines with true musicality and improvisational adventurousness. It's only a matter of time before Lo Vuolo will be part of the big league.
Pianist Paula Shocron has taken lessons with Ernesto Jodos and she shares his elegantly swinging touch, but has developed her own voice and her natural musicality can be enjoyed on Our Delight, her first trio outing on Rivorecords.
The title track is penned by Tadd Dameron, who has been called the "romanticist of the bebop movement," but there isn't anything slow or contemplative about the propulsive rhythms conjured by Shocron and her cohorts. However, there is a chance to hear the softer side of Dameron in a gentle interpretation of "Soultrane" where bassist Jerónimo Carmona provides a well-structured solo.
Shocron is classicaly trained and came relatively late to jazz, but it's hard to believe she wasn't born a jazz musician. The music pours out of her effortlessly and her lines have a singable quality that makes her improvisations a joy to follow.
It also helps that Carmona is just as strong a melodic capacity as Shocron. He is the deeper current behind her melodic motifs and drummer Eloy Michelini's superb playing on the cymbals and toms is the epitome of swing. On Irving Berlin's classic "Change Partners" he takes some sly cues from Vernell Fournier and cooks up a simmering rhythm that brings out the best in the song.
It all ends with a soliloquy. Shocron alone at the piano playing Duke Ellington's "Melancholia" and there is, indeed, a certain sadness when a lovely record like this has to end.
Serenade in Blue
Serenade in Blue sees the return of Shocron's trio, but this time around, bassist Jerónimo Carmona is replaced by Juan Manuel Bayón. Fortunately, this doesn't change the chemistry of the trio. Eloy Michelini still works wonders behind the kit and Shocron's melodic gifts are undiminished.
From the first note of Duke Pearson's "Jeannine," the trio's sound is instantly recognizable. The inspiration from pianist Ahmad Jamal's famous trio with drummer Vernel Fournier and bassist Israel Crosby is perhaps even more clear, but there is also a little Latin flourish in the ticking rhythms of "Nica's Dream," originally penned by Horace Silver, and the title track offers the kind of deep lyricism associated with Bill Evans, with broad, crystalline harmonies, adding a touch of Casablanca- nostalgia.
With its fast runs across the keys "Fine and Dandy" might as well be called "Fire and Dandy." The trio definitely burns in a cool manner and Michelini delivers a short, but inspired solo while Bayón plays walking bass patterns.
"SP" offers a welcome chance to hear an original composition and is a lovely mid-tempo melody with echoes of Horace Silver. The bass introduces the pulse of the song and Shocron slowly builds momentum and lets the music unfold. Serenade in Blue ends on a solemn note with a blue ballad, "The Star-crossed Lovers," underlining why a solo album by Shocron would be a treat.
Loicono / Shocron
Paula Shocron's trio from Our Delight resurfaces on Warm Valley where trumpeter Mariano Loiacono shares the bill with Shocron as co- leader. Like Shocron, Loiacono has a background in classical music. He studied with Fernando Ciancio, one of the most prominent trumpet-players in classical music and then turned to jazz at the age of 21. Since then, he hasn't looked back and has become a respected jazz musician, who is an important part of the vital jazz scene in Buenos Aires.
On Warm Valley, Loiacono sticks to the flugelhorn and the warm richness of the instrument is the perfect counterpart to the airy expression of the trio. The musicians kick off with "Bird Song," Thad Jones' homage to Charlie Parker, where the unison lines of piano and brass burn with the energy of bop.
Then follows Paula Shocron's "Elvin," a relaxed swinging piece that introduces guest- musician Sebastián Loiacono, who also spins some crisp balladic lines on "The Nearness of You" where the spirit of Ben Webster is revived.
The repertoire, as usual with Rivorecords, mixes the occasional original composition with familiar and less played standards. "Warm Valley," like the title implies, is a warm landscape of sound where Loiacono's skill as a balladeer comes to the fore with a Chet Baker-like sensitivity and the melody is certainly one of Duke Ellington's gems.
Good melodies, a strong guest appearance and fine solo spots from two of the finest artists of Rivorecords. This sums up Warm Valley.
Compared to the mellow beauty of Warm Valley, Loiacono's session as a leader for Rivorecords is a much more fiery affair. The opener "It's You Or No One" is a case in point, with its high-octane rhythm and muscular duels between Loiacono and saxophonist Gustavo Musso.
Adding alto saxophonists Sebastián Loiacono and Ramiro Flores on an interpretation of Nat Adderley's "Work Song" almost gives a feeling of big band and the musicians blow their horns with passion. However, it doesn't take more than Musso and Loiacono to make the music hot and pianist Francisco Lo Vuolo also plays with great sensitivity and zest.
Justo Lo Prete's belief that it is possible to combine spontaneity and careful arrangements is proven on this session, which has all the charm of a blowing session and the sustainable quality of a work of art. "What's New?" The title asks and one could be tempted to answer "not much," but in the world of Rivorecords this is certainly a good thing. Here's a deep respect for the American hard bop tradition that avoids the pitfalls of pastiche.
In a way, the whole catalog of Rivorecords is a tribute to the American tradition of standards and the way they were stretched and enchanted on the jazz labels of the 50s and 60s. As Justo Lo Prete says: "I like classic labels in the vein of Riverside, Prestige, Contemporary, Pacific Jazz and certainly Blue Note."
Gustavo Musso's record Our Song is a homage to the most important artist that recorded for Lester Koenig's Contemporary label: Art Pepper.
Musso plays in a quartet with pianist Francisco Lo Vuolo and the rhythm section from Paula Shocron's trio: bassist Jerónimo Carmona and drummer Eloy Michelini and, of course, he plays alto saxophone throughout the whole session.
There's only one composition by Pepper, which is the title track, and one could have hoped for a version of a signature Pepper-ballad like "Patricia," but instead Musso chooses to spread his Pepper-stardust on standards like "Here's That Rainy Day" and "Lover Man" and it's almost uncanny how closely he can resemble Pepper's adroit phrasings and the cool fire of his tone. Like Pepper, Musso knows that good music should tell a good story and this is also the case in general for Rivorecords. When all comes to all, there's no need to intellectualize it more than necessary or as Justo Lo Prete says: "just listen to the music and enjoy it. Keep things simple. Just jazz standards; no science behind."
There might not be a lot science behind the music, but it certainly has body and soul. Rivorecords is all about classy packaging, superior sound and tested material interpreted by true artists. It's the classic sound of Blue Note coming from Buenos Aires.
Tracks and Personnel
Solo Piano en Argentina
Tracks: More Than You Know; Goodbye Mr. Evans; In Your Own Sweet Way; Pee Wee / Heaven Dance; Infant Eyes; Habiba.
Personnel: Kirk Lightsey: piano.
Goodbye: Solo Piano
Tracks: Soul Eyes; Everything Happens To Me; Whisper Not; Danny Boy; When You're Smiling; Fly Me to the Moon; In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning; I'm Getting Sentimental Over You; Up Jumped Spring; Goodbye.
Personnel: Adrián Iaies: piano.
Tracks: Fire Waltz; Petite Fleur; Dewey Square; Moment's Notice; Light Blue; Invitation; My Old Flame, Step Tempest; Somebody Loves Me; Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams.
Personnel: Ernesto Jodos: piano; Jerónimo Carmona: bass; Pepi Taveira: drums.
Tracks: Yesterdays; The Very Thought of You; Local 47; Monk's Mood; Easy to Love; Segment; Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen; The Eye of the Hurricane; My Funny Valentine.
Personnel: Francisco Lo Vuolo: piano; Cristian Bortoli: bass; Eloy Michelini: drums.
Tracks: The End of a Love Affair; There's No You; Soultrane; Our Delight; So Tired; There's A Small Hotel; One Morning in May; Lover Come Back to Me; Change Partners; Melancholia.
Personnel: Paula Shocron: piano; Jerónimo Carmona: bass; Eloy Michelini: drums.
Serenade in Blue
Tracks: Jeannine; Afternoon in Paris; Nica's Dream; Serenade in Blue; Fine and Dandy; SP; My Ideal; Willow Grove; The Star-crossed Lovers.
Personnel: Paula Shocron: piano; Juan Manuel Bayón: bass; Eloy Michelini: drums.
Track Listing: Bird Song; Elvin; The Nearness of You; Blues for My Hero; Warm Valley; Lover; Stablemates.
Personnel: Mariano Loiacono: flugelhorn; Sebastián Loiacono: tenor saxophone; Paula Shocron: piano; Jerónimo Carmona: bass; Eloy Michelini: drums.
Tracks: It's You Or No One; Johnny Come Lately; What's New?; Connecting; I Fall in Love Too Easily; Blue Monk; Work Song; My Foolish Heart.
Personnel: Mariano Loiacono: trumpet, flugelhorn; Gustavo Musso: tenor saxophone; Sebastián Loiacono: alto saxophone; Ramiro Flores: alto saxophone; Francisco Lo Vuolo: piano; Jerónimo Carmona: bass; Pepi Taveira: drums.
Tracks: Four Brothers; You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To; Here's That Rainy Day; Our Song; So in Love; I Can't Give You Anything But Love; Lover Man.
Personnel: Gustavo Musso: alto saxophone; Francisco Lo Vuolo: piano; Jerónimo Carmona; Eloy Michelini: drums.