The first thing you notice on "A Night in Tunisia, which opens the wonderful La Espada De La Noche, is the accordion, which is not the most heavily used instrument in jazz, to say the least. The next thing is Ted Nash's beautiful, soft, caressing sax sound, followed by the "full band, which excludes a bassist but includes Clark Gayton's tuba and Nathalie Bonin's "straight violin. The main theme is then treated as a tango mixed with a Eastern European folk song, and it all works. Nash then takes an engaging solo against swinging, walking tuba and light drums, until the rest of the band joins in as the rhythm moves back to "Polish tango. It's important to bear in mind the main distinction between Hispanic and Latin music. There is no mambo here, but the tango, and the feel reflects Spain and Argentina, not Puerto Rico. Many of the tunes will be familiar, even if their titles are not.
La Espada de la Noche (The Sword of the Night) is full of such surprises and is as delightful as it is unpretentious. The music is not "deep in the usual sense but nevertheless has much depth. The intensity comes in the textures created by the instruments that serve as a backdrop for top-notch soloing. Nathalie Bonin plays a very sensual solo on "Sebago without being particularly jazzy in style. Nash probably wanted that mix of the "straight classical combined with the freedom of playing around the beat and sliding into notes. Also on "Sebago is a simply wondrous section introduced by some of the smoothest trombone ever heard, then joined by everyone else.
"Tico Tico, with its very familiar rhythm and melody, is a perfect example of how the unexpected instrumentation can produce exciting and invigorating music. Matt Wilson plays lightly on the drums while Gayton pumps out the bass lines on tuba (reminiscent of the early '20s, before string bass became the norm). Violin, clarinet, and accordion provide an intro and then a unison melodic declamation. Nash's clarinet solo has touches of klezmer, and even the tuba gets a solo.
Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez (Movements 1 and 2), originally written for guitar and orchestra (also not the usual instrumentation) are arguably the central tracks of the record. The original music was premiered in 1940 and has since passed into general musical consciousness. Quite naturally, these two tracks sound the most arranged, with the essence of the concierto coming through clearly. From the rhythm of Movement 1 to the extremely beautiful theme of Movement 2, Rodrigo's Spain is evoked, albeit filtered through Nash's musical mind. The instruments are used in many different configurations, each with its own voice, creating an altogether entrancing atmosphere.
The bluesy "Walk This Way is almost a shock to the system after Aranjuez, but it is just the group that is on display now. Bonin really digs in and seems to have a lot of fun, answered both by Nash and Bill Schimmel on accordion.
La Espada De La Noche is a success just about any way you approach it, whether through its unique instrumentation, outstanding playing, or original arranging.
Track Listing: A Night In Tunisia; Sebago; Tico Tico; La Espada De La Noche; Concierto De Aranjuez, Movement 1, Allegro; Concierto De Aranjuez, Movement 11, Adagio; Walk This Way.
Personnel: Ted Nash, tenor and alto saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet, alto flute; Nathalie Bonin, violin; Clark Gayton, tuba, trombone, baritone horn; Bill Schimmel, accordion; Matt Wilson, drums.
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