Jazz vocalist Tom Lellis' Avenue of the Americas is at least partially a midsummer's valentine to the music of Brazil, and those tracks represent the finest aspect of this album. Lellis, who began recording in 1979 on Inner City Records, has only a handful of albums to show for the passing decades. His 1993 Concord album Taken To Heart first teamed him with Brazilian guitarist and composer Toninho Horta and exposed his interest in the music of that country. Horta is an essential part of this new release, appearing on half of the album.
Lellis borrows some pages from the Mark Murphy songbook, which works well for him on this session. The album's title refers to not only the New York thoroughfare (also known as Sixth Avenue), but also the more mythical musical streets of Brazil and perhaps Central America. Lellis provides original vocals and makes his debut on guitar on the Newley/Bricusse piece "Pure Imagination," also duetting on guitar with Horta on "Waiting for Angela."
Lellis, who previously penned lyrics to compositions by McCoy Tyner and Keith Jarrett, contributes new lyrics to Pat Metheny's "For Better Days," which appeared on the guitarist's Letter From Home album; Toninho Horta's "Olinda Wind"; Yellowjackets Russell Ferrante and Jimmy Haslip's "For Wisdom"; and "Isle Awhile," composed by former Jazz Messenger pianist Donald Brown. On the Wright/Forrest standard "Baubles, Bangles and Beads," Lellis sings with guitar accompaniment in the style of Joao Gilberto, whom I believe delivered a nearly identical version some decades ago.
The conclusion of the album finds Lellis melding the R&B classic "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," written by Ashford and Simpson, with the hit "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," popularized by U2. The use of these two songs in a medley underscores his theme of search and fulfillment. Then Lellis reprises his lyrics for Keith Jarrett's "Lucky Southern" with Dori Caymmi's "Maracangalha." He also contributed the guitar accompaniment, arrangement and Portuguese lyrics. Among the many musicians who contribute to this album are bassist Richard Bona, flautist Jeremy Steig, pianists Kenny Werner, Dave Kikoski and Gary Fisher, and percussionist Frank Colon.
For Better Days Ahead; Norwegian Wood; Baubles; Bangles; and Beads; Olinda Wind; For
Wisdom; Pure Imagination/Waiting for Angela; River of Light; A Choice of Fates; Isle Awhile;
Ain't No Mountain High Enough/Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For; Lucky Southern/
Tom Lellis: vocals, guitar, keyboard, percussion; Toninho Horta: guitar; Richard Bona: electric
bass; Tony Marino: bass, electric bass; Gary Fisher: piano, keyboards; Kenny Werner and
Dave Kikoski: piano; Cliff Almond and Tommy Campbell: drums; Jeremy Steig: flute; Jorge
Amorim and Frank Colon: percussion.
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