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May 2006

Doug Collette By

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Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Blue Note

The brilliant young Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba has followed his muse in many directions, and played in a variety of formats, during his career, and he's always especially successful in a context grounded in simplicity. Little surprise then that his new solo album ranks with his acoustic quartet work as the most articulate and deeply felt music he's yet recorded. Switching between pre-composed material and free improvisation doesn't stop him giving free rein to his impulses, and the dynamic shows his instincts are on a level with his technical ability - a combination of powers all musicians aspire to, but only the greatest achieve.

Jaco Pastorius Big Band
The Word Is Out
Heads Up

Even a roster of musicians as impressive as the one that comprises tribute orchestra the Jaco Pastorius Big Band doesn't necessarily guarantee justice to the subject of the homage. But this particular labor of love contains all the qualities that branded the idiosyncratic bassist a genius (or near to it): a playful tenderness, an almost reckless sense of adventure, and an ear for intricate arrangements that challenge musicians to play at their highest level. Not intimidated by even the most familiar Pastorius material, the band offers an accessible, open door to new listeners turning their ears to the pleasures of his music. It's a testament to Pastorius' personality, musical and otherwise, that he inspired such a project so soon after his untimely passing, and one with such an obvious commitment to integrity.

Monty Alexander
Concrete Jungle

Given the fact that he too is a native of Jamaica, like Bob Marley, it's hardly surprising that pianist Monty Alexander's tribute to the music of the late mystic/prophet retains so much of the dusky atmosphere of authentic reggae. Of prime importance of course are the rhythms, which Alexander keeps deep and true throughout, and then there's the confidence he exudes too. He's brave and skilful enough to use horns and vocals, as well as his own considerable creativity at the piano, to play with textures in a way that's characteristic of roots reggae. It's no criticism of Alexander that this album will send you back to the Wailers' discs, because you're bound to come back to Alexander's in return, too.

Michel Camilo
Rhapsody In Blue

Cuban pianist Michel Camilo has proved himself a remarkable musician in both studio and live performance contexts over the last few years, and Rhapsody In Blue, a program of Gershwin recorded with the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, is a logical step in Camilo's ambitious career path. Sadly, on this occasion, his touch and melodic ingenuity are more often than not submerged by the orchestra, and the unfortunate end result is music that, because it strains for effect, doesn't do justice to either the composer or the players, especially Camilo himself.

Joey DeFrancesco
Organic Vibes
Concord Jazz

It's telling that vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson gets the first solo on this disc, as well as at least half of the title allusion. Although Hutcherson isn't given co-billing with Joey DeFrancesco on the session, he is equally key to the success of it. But while each musician puts his respective stamp on the music—as does veteran saxophonist George Coleman too when he steps in—it's DeFrancesco who's spotlighted demonstrating the versatility of the Hammond organ. Functioning equally well as leader or accompanist, he sounds like he's smiling through his instrument, setting a tone that permeates the twelve tracks and renders Organic Vibes a surprisingly satisfying listen.

Pat Martino
Remember: A Tribute To Wes Montgomery
Blue Note

Genius, it would seem, begets genius, which is why it may have been predestined that Pat Martino would one day conceive an homage to Wes Montgomery. Yet this is no mere tribute album, or cautious collection of covers of familiar material associated with the jazz guitar icon. Rather it is Martino's reminiscence, part emotional and part intellectual, of the inspiration he took from Montgomery. That the contemporary guitarist drenches his own playing with the liquid soul of his hero is stunning enough - that he is also able to spread that creative impulse throughout his band, as they revisit a diverse selection of tunes by Carl Perkins, Milt Jackson and Montgomery himself, makes the album a personal statement on more than one level.


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