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Best known for his work within straight-ahead classic jazzfrom early apprenticeships with the Lionel Hampton and Quincy Jones bands through today's collaborations with Wynton MarsalisTed Nash has used his Odeon projects to show another, more outward looking and, some might say, more interesting and innovative aspect of his musical interests. With Odeon, Nash weaves tango (and a dash of East European street music) into the New Orleans to Lincoln Center straight-ahead tradition to create an inventive, lyrical, and frequently playful concoction which is practically guaranteed to give you a sunnier outlook on the day ahead.
This is no small achievement. Tango, within its founding Argentinian tradition, is not exactly laugh-and-the-world-laughs-with-you music. It deals with heartache, grinding poverty, gender warfare, political oppression, and knife fights, sometimes all in the course of the same song. As Astor Piazzolla observed, "you will not find one note of happiness within it." Nash clearly has real love and respect for tango, and has put some serious conservatoire and field research into the Odeon project, but he also finds humor in the music's intensely dramatic rhythms and melodiesand is not afraid at times to play it, if not for laughs, then at least for smiles.
We like smiles, and La Espada De La Noche, Odeon's second album after '01's Sidewalk Meeting, is a delight from start to finish, thoughtfully and gorgeously arranged and infectiously performed, as much fun to listen to as it must have been to conceive. Varying degrees of tango run throughout the setmore or less straightfaced in the passionate "La Espada De La Noche" ("the sword of the night," phallus or phlick knife? or both?), and cheerfully romantic "Sebago"; more impishly in the delicately wrought "A Night In Tunisia," a far cry from the sweating urgency seminalists Diz 'n' Bird and Dexter Gordon brought to the tune. And Nash's sense of humor extends beyond tangoficationto the fleet-fingered violin and clarinet-led reading of the Latin evergreen "Tico Tico" and indeed to the very inclusion of "Walk This Way," another tune in which violinist Nathalie Bonin makes a big and joyful impression.
There is also some fresh and seriously resonating music in Nash's arrangements of Rodrigo's Concierto De Aranjuez. "Movement 11: Adagio" is entirely liberated from the template created by Miles and Gil Evans (no mean achievement again) and is, upon its smaller canvas, as shimmeringly beautiful, from Clark Gayton's dirty tailgating trombone to Nash's soulful saxophone.
A real pleasure, vibrantly recorded (by Matt Balitsaris) to boot.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.