Pianist, composer and arranger Terry Klinefelter deserves greater recognition, and this album shows why. Based in the Philadelphia area with her long-time spouse, bassist Paul Klinefelter
, she has brought together a cadre of the finest instrumentalists and vocalists for a collection of music that resonates with the heart. With her adept piano playing at the center, she brings in her cohorts at special moments to render a set of originals and standards that contain reflections on the joy of living mixed with an awareness of ambiguity and ambivalence, a sense of jouissance, an ever-so-slight tinge of blues. Her music possesses the rare combination of simplicity, humanity, and intelligence that touches the listener at deep levels of emotion and personal meaning. The searching nature of the album is contained in the first lines of the concluding title tune, "Zingaro" (in Klinefelter's own translation from the Portuguese): "Already I know the steps of that road/ know it will lead nowhere/ know its secrets in color." The songs pose searching questions about life impressions and experiences without easy resolution.
For Philadelphia jazz aficionados, Zingaro
provides a "busman's holiday" of several outstanding area musicians, including Lee Smith
on bass, Byron Landham
on drums, trumpeter John Swana
(in this context he plays the EWI: electronic wind instrument), guitarist Steve Giordano
, and vocalists Anne Sciolla and Denise King
. The saxophonist is the versatile New York based Jerry Weldon
. And the ensemble is spiced with cameo appearances by husband Paul and drummer Glenn Ferracone, as well as, on the final, title track, a string section consisting of Netanel Draiblate, violin, Adrianna Linaroes, viola, and James Cooper, cello. Klinefelter serves not merely as the pianist, but carefully places these enormous talents within the music in such a way as to convey a series of reflections on life and love. As such, she is a role model for what the leader of a jazz ensemble should do. The comparison that comes to mind is with trumpeter Miles Davis, who consciously chose and placed his musicians to make his artistic points. Unfortunately, that isn't how it usually happens. Klinefelter is in rare good company.
This is an album that isn't rushed or pressured, yet moves forward with positive energy. Lee Smith and Byron Landham sustain the tempos with almost metronomic precision, placing everything in a flowing rhythmic groove that allows the soloists to develop their ideas in a setting that preserves their intentions. The album is organized around such ideas and reflections, which are also highlighted by Klinefelter's original settings of the poems of Dana Gioia, a prominent West Coast poet whom she met when he gave a reading at West Chester University, where Klinefelter is on the music faculty. The two poems she chose, "Majority" and "Money" serve well as expressive vehicles for jazz, and Sicolla and King milk the words for all they're worth. At the conclusion, Klinefelter herself sings the Portuguese lyrics to Jobim's "Zingaro." The various lyrics come together retrospectively and introspectively to inform the instrumentals that precede them. The overall effect is an expression of the heart that has found its deliverance through contemplative reflection, with a balanced mixture of light and dark, humor and depth of feeling.
The set begins with a Klinefelter original, "Tunnel," featuring the piano, bass, drums trio that is the centerpiece of the recording. The "tunnel," it turns out, is a 7-note recurrent low-register left-hand motif that forms a basis for improvisations in a standard piano trio format. Lee Smith's trenchant, resonant bass sound expands the tunnel so that the piano can go comfortably through it. Klinefelter then delivers straight-ahead "right hand" piano choruses that swing.
Next, a reflective element is introduced with a laconic interpretation of the Carpenters' "Superstar," you know, the one that goes "Don't you remember, you told me you loved me baby?/ You said you'd be coming back this way again baby/ Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh baby..." Only here it is done as a lazy-day ballad featuring Weldon on tenor sax. Weldon's wispy, feathery musings say something about misbegotten longings felt while alone on a quiet afternoon.
"Simone" (a tune by Count Basie's saxophonist/composer Frank Foster) again features the basic trio. It consists of an emphatic three-quarter-time rhythmic pulse against which Klinefelter lays down linear improvisations in her own sweet way. Lee Smith takes an extended bass solo that punctuates the pianist's flowing choruses. Smith's sound is strong and full, as if his bass could have been made by Stradivarius. The whole album is driven and flattered by Smith's walking bass lines, further illustrated by the way he moves the next track, "Swagger" into Weldon's rocking parody of a rhythm and blues saxophonist. "Square Song," another Klinefelter original, provides a march-like "work song" that serves as a coda to "Swagger" and gives Klinefelter a chance to insert some dissonant clusters for emphasis.
Cole Porter's "I Love You" is given a lively twist, with Weldon's alternately "feathery" and emphatic sax playing bearing hints of Ben Webster
and a lot of Stan Getz
. Weldon is one of the most versatile and resilient saxophonists in the business, and this album gives him an opportunity to show his diverse sides. Klinefelter, Smith, and Landham take solos that hark back to the 1950s and players like pianist Wynton Kelly
, bassist Paul Chambers
, and drummer Elvin Jones
. The piece is taken to a lively conclusion with playful piano-saxophone exchanges.
The mood shifts radically with a sad "plain song," "Majority," with lyrics from a Dana Gioia poem, a subtle life reflection whose meaning only gradually manifests itself: the poet is remembering a child who died young, and tearfully sees that child growing up in the lives of other children around him, until that child of virtual reality reaches "majority" (adulthood). The melody by Klinefelter is reminiscent of the song cycles of Ned Rorem. Classically trained Anne Sciolla sings it as such, and her beautiful voice is complemented by John Swana's haunting evocations on the electronic wind instrument.
Next, the legendary vocalist Denise King gives Gioia's poem "Money" a "watch out for the trouble" reading as one of a blues genre that warns you of what you are in for if you lose your grip on temptation: "Money: you put it where your mouth is, and it talks." If this song becomes a standardand it couldMs. King will be credited with the definitive interpretation.
"Qatana" is a lilting melody with a Latin flavor and serves as a showpiece for Swana's use of the EWI. The EWI sound is adjustable, and here it sounds like a flute, but with a slightly tart taste. (The early models consisted of two parts: a wind controller and a synthesizer in a rackmount box.) This is a different Swana from the trumpet-player known for his post-bop improvisations. Here, he evokes the minimalist lyricism of the flute with a Cuban sentimentality. The Latin emphasis sets the stage for the final, title track, Jobim's "Zingaro: Portrait in Black and White." Klinefelter's lovely arrangement of the Tom Jobim/Chico Buarque song about lost love brings in guitar and strings, and Klinefelter herself is the vocalist, singing in the original Portuguese with the understated poignancy that characterized Jobim's female interlocutors, Astrud Gilberto
and Elis Regina
. In addition, the single violin, viola, and cello are configured to sound like a full string section, the way many of the early recordings of Jobim's ballads were structured.
To sum up, this recording exemplifies a particular ideal for jazz recording: a set of pieces each of which tells a story, where musical expression of ideas and emotions is paramount, and where the whole comes together to form a coherent underlying theme or concept. Klinefelter and her cohorts deserve praise for achieving a high level of expression and coherence in sharp contrast to the many recordings that represent a pastiche of "takes" where the musicians jam a few tunes in the midst of their hectic schedules. The results of such quick fixes may be flashy, but they fall short of the depth of meaning and superb ensemble playing of an album like Zingaro
guided by a musician like Klinefelter who is devoted to deep expression of the human experience.