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Vince Mendoza: Nights on Earth

John Kelman By

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It's been 13 years since Vince Mendoza last released an album of all-original music with Epiphany (Zebra, 1999); but it's not as if he hasn't been busy. He's a first-call arranger for high profile jazzers, working on guitarist John Scofield's 54 (EmArcy, 2010), now-deceased keyboard giant Joe Zawinul's Brown Street (Heads Up, 2007), and über-trumpeter Randy Brecker's Some Skunk Funk (Telarc, 2006). He's lived in the pop world with Björk, Elvis Costello and Joni Mitchell, and participated in concept projects like Blauklang (ACT , 2008) and the flamenco-driven El Viento (ACT, 2009). Clearly, for Mendoza, there're only so many hours in a day.

Which makes Nights on Earth all the more cause for celebration. Early albums like Start Here (World Pacific, 1990) utilized a relatively large cast of characters and were broad in scope, but here Mendoza achieves a new plateau with a panoramic world view bringing together musical friends, old and new. Mendoza has recruited five different guitarists alone, each for their individual strengths, whether it's a blues-tinged Scofield on the elegiac "Gracias," Nguyen Le's electrified Orient-icities on the percussion-driven "Shekere," or John Abercrombie's narrative weaving through "Poem of the Moon," which also features rising star trumpeter, Ambrose Akinmusire, and whose dark beginnings gradually pick up steam, all the while retaining the harmonic ambiguity that makes it feel constantly on the edge of a precipice.

A consolidation of sorts, Mendoza culls from his flamenco experience on "Otoño," though its breezy, Mediterranean opening gradually evolves into something more complex, with Lê's scored melody the perfect transition to organist Larry Goldings' solo, which impressively and effortlessly winds its way through Mendoza's constantly shifting harmonic backdrop.

Mendoza's tremendous attention to detail is amongst the many reasons that musicians are drawn to his music. This is challenging music to play; even more challenging music through which to solo. Only four of Night on Earth's dozen tracks crack the six-minute mark, but there's an under-the-sheets complexity that still manages to feel natural—inevitable, even. Whether it's Mendoza's string-driven feature for bandoneonist Hector del Curto ("Addio), the composer's similarly symphonic but more expansive piece for pianist Kenny Werner and saxophonist Joe Lovano ("Beauty and Sadness"), or his polyrhythmic but backbeat-driven work that brings together a largely west coast group, including pianist Alan Pasqua, bassist Jimmy Johnson, and drummer Peter Erskine, with steel drummer Andy Narell and soprano saxophonist Stéphane Guillaume, who soars over the second half of the tune ("Conchita"), it's impossible to pick a highlight on Nights on Earth because every track is filled with them.

With a release schedule so busy that it's easy to miss projects like Fast City: A Tribute to Joe Zawinul (BHM, 2010), it's no surprise Mendoza took so long to get to Nights on Earth. His significance may not be reflected with a household name, but there's little doubt that, amongst musicians, he's a key figure. With 39 performers (excluding Metropole's 30 participants), Nights on Earth is another watershed, representing Mendoza's current position along an evolving path, where profound compositional depth and simple beauty find a rare meeting point.

Track Listing: Otoño; Poem Of The Moon; Ao Mar; Conchita; The Stars You Saw; Addio; Shekere; Beauty and Sadness; The Night We Met; Gracias; Everything Is You; Lullaby.

Personnel: Vince Mendoza: composer, conductor, arranger, keyboards (7, 9); Lorraine Perry: vocals (10); Luciana Souza: vocals (3); Tom Diakite: kora and vocals (7); Jim Walker: flute (2, 11); Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone (5, 8); Bob Mintzer: tenor saxophone and bass clarinet (3, 11); Stephane Guillaume: tenor and soprano saxophone (4, 7); Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet (3); Rick Todd: french horn (1, 4, 11); Jim Self: tuba (1, 4); John Abercrombie: electric guitar (2, 5, 8); John Scofield: electric guitar (3, 10); Nguyên Lê: electric guitar (1, 4, 7); Romero Lubambo: acoustic guitar (3); Louis Winsberg: acoustic guitar (1); Alan Pasqua: piano (1, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11); Kenny Werner: piano (2, 5, 8); Larry Goldings: organ (1, 4, 10); Michel Alibo: electric bass (7); Jimmy Johnson: electric bass (1, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11); Christian McBride: acoustic bass (2, 5, 8); Peter Erskine: drums (1, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11); Greg Hutchinson: drums (2, 5, 8); Karim Ziad: drums (7); Alex Acuna: percussion (1, 3, 11); Luis Conte: percussion (4, 9, 10); Christo Cortez: palmas (1); Rhani Krija: percussion ( 7); Miguel Sanchez: palmas and cajon (1); Hector del Curto: bandoneon (6, 9, 12); Marcia Dickstein: harp (2, 11); Andy Narrell: steel drums (4); Jesse Mills: violin (6, 9); Arnaud Sussman: violin (6, 9); Dov Sheindlin: viola (6, 9); Fred Sherry: cello (6, 9, 12); Gregg August: contrabass (6, 9); Judd Miller: synthesizer programming (7, 9); Sarah Koch: concert master (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Erica Korthals Altes: violin (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); David Peijnenborgh: violin (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Pauline Terlouw: violin (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Giles Francis: violin (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Petra Griffioen: violin (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Doesjka de Leu: violin (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Seija Teeuwen: violin (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Merijn Rombout: violin (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Herman van Haaren: violin (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Lucja Domski: violin (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Wim Kok: violin (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Elizabeth Liefkes-Cats: violin (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Marianne van den Heuvel: violin (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Laurie Vreeken-Bos: violin (2, 3, 5, 7, 8);: Mieke Honingh: viola (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Norman Jansen: viola (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Julia Jowet: viola (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Isabella Petersen: viola (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Alex Welch: viola (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Bastiaan van der Werf: cello (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Maarten Jansen: cello (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Wim Grin: cello (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Annie Tangberg: cello (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Erik Winkelmann: contrabass (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Arend Liefkes: contrabass (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Tjerk de Vos: contrabass (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Eddy Koopman: percussion (2, 3, 5, 7, 8);: Joke Schonewille: harp (2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Hans Vroomans: piano (2, 3, 5, 7, 8).

Title: Nights On Earth | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Horizontal

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