31 year-old guitarist Francisco Pais is a lyrically-minded jazzer hailing from Portugal, now living in Boston, possessing a refreshing approach and sound. He follows up his outstanding 2006 debut with a release that further codifies and focuses his concept, preferring color to line, distillate to volume, and restraint to abandon, yet pulsating with a sumptuous passion all its own. Like the tasteful trickle of new small-group recordings emanating from the Lisbon scene, the sound is not overtly Latin yet figuratively drenched in its climes.
Two of Pais' long-time musical associates are aboard, supplementing their formidable chops quotient with unique panethnic capacities: Hungarian drummer Ferenc Nemeth and Argentinean pianist and Rhodes stylist Leo Genovese. Veteran saxophonist Chris Cheek again commits his capacious talents to Pais vision, elevating this session from project to truly band status.
Gretchen Parlato adds heart-melting heat to the incandescence of this session by coupling her vocals to the poetry of Ann Bruno on two songs. "Early Shift," first strummed with modern rock flavor, throttles to balladry having little to do with jazz, but everything to do with mood and hue, wherein the sounds and lyrics wash clean. "The Thing with Feathers" finds her not only pitch-perfect, but so emotionally so that, after repeated plays, the songs may grow tiring but never the singer. Both feature Cheek following Parlato's emotional arc with his instrument's own brand of heartfelt vocalization. The buzz on Parlato is that she's the singer from which everyone expects great things, but as these two gems reveal, she's delivering already.
The title track is a rousing distillate of a trend incorporating contemporary rhythms into small-group jazz, coming courtesy of Nemeth's uncanny knack for drum 'n' bass styles. Shredding throughout while containing himself at the very edge of exactly what is called for, he drives the angular contour of the melody, voiced in unison by soprano sax and distortion-tinged guitar. The solo section thrills as Pais, Cheek and Genovese dance and coil around one another, intuitively overlapping lines laced with jazz vocabulary within a rhythmic bed of electronica sans electric instrumentation.
Genovese's quicksilver solo lines on "Baron," over Nemeth's loopy mod-bossa pattern, deserve special mention, especially to those seeking out some new additions to the Rhodes vocabulary.
Pais gifts last with the ironically titled prize, "You Just Won Another Day with Yourself," an exquisite composition that qualifies for the Real Book, circa 2010a ballad that swings with a swaying rustle, like branches in a shifting tropical breeze, drenched in self-reflective melancholy. He stretches his melody's long hook into his solo, a magnificent distillate (there's that word again) of a hundred Blue Note ballad sessions, tagging it with a perfectly, sadly placed, jazz-blues teardrop.
Digesting this session will reveal not only the breadth of influences that Pais has assimilated into his bag, but the depth of attention he heaps upon his compositional offspring and, in turn, his audience, which should increase with this sensually satisfying release.
Track Listing: Early Shift; School of Enlightenment; Budejovica; Baron; Thing With Feathers; Tatui; Think Again; Everything Is Something New Somewhere; You Just Won Another Day With Yourself.
Personnel: Francisco Pais: guitar; Chris Cheek: tenor and soprano saxophones; Ferenc Nemeth: drums; Leo Genovese: piano, Fender Rhodes; Peter Slavov, bass; Damien Cabaud: bass (1,7); Gretchen Parlato: vocals (1, 5).