Pianist/keyboardist Alain Mallet has been known as much for his work as a producer as for his pianistic accomplishments. Having served as a sideman for Madeleine Peyroux, Phil Woods and Paul Simon, he's also produced music by vocalists Jonatha Brooke and Grace Kelly. And his compositions have been performed by musicians as diverse as Gary Burton, Dave Samuels and Paquito D'Rivera, which gives a sense of the breadth of his musical affinities. That wide-ranging spirit is certainly the defining characteristic of Mutt Slang, his debut as a leader, as it illustrates his conviction that stylistic "purity" is something to be rejected, preferring instead an amalgamation of diverse influences that could be defined loosely as "world music," although even that term may be too limiting for Malleta composer who seeks to inhabit his own creative space without categories.
Mallet is joined by a significant array of musicians, with percussionist Jamey Haddad and Jordanian violinist Layth Sidiq particularly valuable in pushing the music beyond conventional jazz parameters. Tali Rubinstein's recorders and Song Yi Jeon's vocals also bring a good deal of character to Mallet's compositions. Whether on the tango-based opener, "Till I Dance (In Your Arms Again)," "Road Signs," an Israeli pop song given a heartfelt treatment by vocalist Veronica Morscher, or "Salif," dedicated to Afro-pop singer Salif Keita, Mallet's colleagues show themselves capable of negotiating multiple rhythmic languages, sounding completely at home in each while avoiding obvious clichés. In addition to Haddad, credit should go to bassist Peter Slavov and drummer Abraham Rounds, both of whom facilitate the album's stylistic boundary-crossing.
While the musicianship on the record is first-rate, this isn't an album that trades on a lot of showy pyrotechnics; the emphasis is always on the melodic foundation of the songs. Even so, there are some fine solo moments found throughout the disc. Alto saxophonist Samuel Batista makes a spirited contribution to "Till I Dance," while his tenor counterpart Daniel Rotem gets a superb turn himself on "Blessed Be the Empty Soul," with a piquant post-bop flavor that energizes the band on one of its most engaging cuts. Mallet gets to stretch out himself on "Salif" with a jaunty, ever-so-slightly funky delivery that enhances the rhythmic potency of the track, while Sidiq's rubato, unaccompanied opening to "Adama" offers a yearning lyricism that is quite affecting. And Song Yi Jeon's wordless vocal performance on her own composition "Spring" is truly impressive, with scintillating energy and flawless technique.
With an album this ambitious and comprised of so many different stylistic modes, it's perhaps inevitable that its cohesion sometimes feels a bit weakened amidst the various idiomatic stops on this colorful journey. But even so, Mallet's all-encompassing musical philosophy is a compelling one, and he's assembled a fine set of musicians to help him realize it.
Till I Dance (In Your Arms Again); Blessed Be the Empty Soul; Road Signs; Alone; The Long Walk Home (Salif Prelude); Salif;
Adama; Spring; Elis; BAtukAdA; This Is When I Think About You; Cradle.
Alain Mallet: piano, keyboards, electronics, lead vocal (12); Peter Slavov: acoustic bass; Jamey Haddad: percussion; Layth
Sidiq: violin; Tali Rubinstein: recorders, lead vocal (7), vox (3); Song Yi Jeon: lead vocals; Veronica Morscher: “trans-
oceanic” lead vocal (3); Samuel Batista: alto saxophone; Daniel Rotem: tenor saxophone; Abraham Rounds: drums; Jacob
Matheus: acoustic guitar (1), electric guitar (2, 3, 7, 8, 10); Leandro Pellegrino: electric guitar (1, 6, 9); Negah: pandeiro (1),
congas (5); Gonzalo Grau: xekere (6).
Title: Mutt Slang
| Year Released: 2018
| Record Label: ETrain Records
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