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Pianist/bassist/vocalist Richard Drexler has crafted an eclectic recording, full of fire and humor, saluting the music of Johannes Brahms reinvented through Latin American rhythms. Along the way he also tips his hat to American popular music.
The imaginative Drexler uses the vallenato and cumbia (Columbia), tango (Argentina), bolero (Cuba), merengue, pasajes and gaitas (Venezuela), festejo and lando (Peru), samba and bossa (Brazil), and candombe (Uruguay) to blur the distinctions seemingly separating classical, jazz, and Latin American music. Not everything worksfor instance, the sugar-coated "Piano Quartet #3 in C minor but more often than not, Drexler hits the mark.
The familiar Brahms themes "Hungarian Dance #1 in G minor and "Hungarian Dance #5 in F# minor are thoughtfully rearranged. Drexler offers a driving straight-ahead piano solo on the former, while the latter sports exhilarating, if short-lived, tenor counterpoint between Bob Mintzer and George Allgaier. On the "Piano Quartet #3 in C minor Allgaier blows an aggressive tenor solo that contrasts well with Kenny Drew Jr. and Mintzer's elegant turns on piano and bass clarinet, respectively.
The non-Brahms material, including a festejo-flavored arrangement of the classic "Epistrophy (composed by Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke), exemplifies the ecumenical nature of this project. Alto saxophonist Oscar Feldman opens his solo with an allusion to "Caravan and the track soars from there. Drexler adds pop into the mix with the '60s tune "I'll Never Find Another You, featuring himself on bass and on an appealing vocal with an outstanding scat chorus. Especially notable is his voicing of the two brass and four reeds. On "Where Is Love?, the strings and overdubbed voices are arresting, but this time out, the vocal is more of an acquired taste, never really allowing the beauty of the melody and lyric to shine. Drexler returns to the Brahms program and along the way offers one of the loveliest moments: a quiet bossa piano solo on "Intermezzo in A minor.
In the program notes, Drexler urges listeners to "listen to recordings of the original versions of all these pieces to hear the context and omitted material. Projects like this will hopefully help bridge the divide, creating music people, not just jazz people, or classical people, or rock people, or "you name the music genre people.
Track Listing: Hungarian Dance #1 in g minor; Piano Quintet in f minor, Op. 34 - 3rd movement/Piano Quartet #3 in c minor, Op. 60 - 1st movement; Piano Quartet #3 in c minor, Op. 60 - 3rd movement; Hungarian Dance #5 in f# minor; Introduction to Epistrophy; Epistrophy; I'll Never Find Another You; Where Is Love?; Intermezzo in a minor, Op. 76, No. 7; String Quintet #2 in G, Op. 111 - 1st movement; String Quintet #2 in G, Op. 111 - 2nd movement; String Quintet #2 in G, Op. 111 - 3rd movement; String Quintet #2 in G, Op. 111- 4th movement; Capriccio in d minor, Op. 116, No. 1; Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77 - 3rd movement
Personnel: Richard Drexler: piano, bass, vocals, saxolodica, violin, viola, cello, cajon, percussion; Alex Acuna: drums; Tracy Alexander: drums; George Allgaier: tenor saxophone; John Allred: trombone; David Anderson: accordion; Jeff Berlin: electric bass; Kenny Drew Jr.: electric piano; Darcy Drexler-Anderson: violin; Oscar Feldman: soprano and alto saxophones; Danny Gottlieb: djembe; John Jenkins: timbales and percussion; Eddie Marshall: clarinet; Bob Mintzer: tenor saxophone and bass clarinet; Gumbi Ortiz: congas and floor tom; Craig Pichanick: drums; Jon Richardson: bass drum; Orlando Sanchez: bongos, timbales, congas and cajon; Mike Scaglione: flute and alto saxophone; Oscar Stagnaro: electric bass; Marvin Stamm: fluegelhorn; Paul Von Adam: trumpet; Rex Wertz: piccolo, soprano and tenor saxophones; Richie Zellon: guitar.
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