Fresh and gay, the music of Pablo Menéndez can lift your spirits. Or just fade gently into the background without ever raising an awareness in you. His smooth jazz guitar sings gently with heartfelt passion, but its subdued demeanor keeps you at a distance. Instead of diving in and grabbing onto every note with a personal interest, his smooth sensations let your mind wander and drift. Sure, it's a relaxed mood. You can escape from life's doldrums quickly, since the music pours forth so sweetly with its gentle percussive rhythms and the leader's lyrical electric guitar melodies.
Menéndez, son of the well known blues and folk singer Barbara Dane, was born in Oakland, California. You can feel her influence in his smooth portrayal of the music. His originals simmer gently under wraps. He moved to Havana, Cuba in the 1960s in order to study and practice his art. Only "Hijos de la Mezcla" stands apart from the rest of the program. Its Santana aura allows Menéndez to light a few fires and to burn a few guitar strings.
"Bonnie's Blues Mambo," featuring an uncredited harmonica player, offers a good healthy look at the blues. Acoustic guitar and harp merge with a clave rhythm to support a tradition that began more than a century ago and continues to bring pleasure today. "Akete Oba Oba" and "La Gitana" fuse traditional Spanish ties into the modern music some call "world beat."
"'Round Midnight," like most of the program, settles in comfortably with an electric bass, electric guitar, and percussion arrangement of pastel colors. Menéndez weaves his guitar in a smooth jazz setting that allows those white puffy clouds in the sky to linger throughout the afternoon. There's enough variety in the session's eclectic program, however, to please any audience. Music is, after all, a universal language.