Pianist John C. O'Leary III, bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman, fast friends since they first met at the University of South Florida in 2006, draw on very different backgrounds and myriad sources when performing together as La Lucha. Whether digging into the Great American Songbook, exploring material from pop and classic rock radio, tapping into the Latin-jazz lexicon, or alluding to classical refinement, they manage to operate with a collective openness that's rare. The piano trio tradition tends to box some in, but this crew is simply unburdened by its expectations and norms. La Lucha has made that clear over the course of a handful of recordings in the past decade, and the group does so again with the help of some high-profile guests on this debut on the Arbors Records imprint.
Everybody Wants To Rule The World, produced by multi-reedist Ken Peplowski, presents a self-assured outfit that's more than happy to fill its dance card with notables, paint originals with unique brushstrokes, and twist known numbers to its liking. All of those aspects of the band's artistry come into play swiftly, in the first three tracks. Arenas' "Por La Tarde," welcoming Peplowski's clarinet and Diego Figueiredo's guitar into the mix, nods to the latter part of the day with some South American simmer and sway. David Bowie's "Space Oddity," graced by the producer's synthesizer filigree, grows into a grooving atmosphere while retaining its signatures. And the "Lullaby Medley: Lullaby of the Leaves/Lullaby of Birdland," with vibraphonist Chuck Redd taking on a leading role, binds two songs that are essentially odd bedfellows and makes them into a perfectand perfectly-spicedpair.
As La Lucha looks further afield, other guests stop by to admire and enhance the view(s). "Blues for Houston Person" brings the titular tenor icon (and Redd) into the picture, a drifting-turned-driving take on the Tears for Fears-associated title track serves as one of several feature spots for saxophonist Melissa Aldana, and assistant engineer Thom Beemer joins the core trio and fellow part-timers Peplowski, Figueiredo and Redd, adding his voice to the cheery outro chorus on the Brazilian-based "Samba Pra Diego." It's all good fun and great music, yet it creates an erroneous assumption about a need for help. Thankfully, any misunderstanding there is corrected along the way: Lest anybody think La Lucha is overly reliant on outsiders, the trio also delivers stellar performances without any star cameos. "The Sundering," an O'Leary offering in seven, flexes and grooves in all the right ways; Arenas' "Lilis," with the pianist on Fender Rhodes and the composer playing electric bass, sells itself with chilled charms and mellow tidings; and Feinman's "Dance Dance Dance," another electrified outing with a bit more pep and some tasty Moog Sub Phatty synthesizer work from O'Leary, plays right to its name.
Whether closed off from outside influences or embracing big-name players, La Lucha never loses sight of the big picture, musical identity and the need to simply soak everything in. Everybody Wants To Rule The World, in its clever and enjoyable unfolding, celebrates the very notions of acceptance and receptiveness.
Por La Tarde; Space Oddity; Lullaby Medley: Lullaby of the Laves/Lullaby of Birdland; Blues for Houston
Person; 1+2; The Sundering; Otra Vez; Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder); Everybody Wants To
Rule The World; Lilis; Dance Dance Dance; She's Like The Wind; Samba Pra Diego.
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