Sandro Albert's biggest weakness may be his near-perfect ability to imitate one of the world's best jazz guitarists. The Brazilian native has a lot going for him on The Color Of Things, his second album. His compositions reflect a strong melodic and harmonic ear, a first-rate roster of players mixes well, and there's plenty of intellect at work beneath an easygoing surface. It'd be so much easier to appreciate if he didn't sound like Pat Metheny most of the time.
Some players would no doubt kill to be able to capture such a presence, but for Albert it's a limitation from someone capable of much more originality. For all his talk of meshing Brazilian and American styles, he did it better on his debut, Soulful People. The new album feels more like mellow American contemporary with an accent, with Albert a dead-on ringer from Metheny's Letter from Home era, right down to the melodic runs, slight twists at the top end of phrases, and chorused supporting vocals.
This is the third disc I've heard in the past month with seemingly strong Metheny ties, so I keep trying to shake it off, thinking it's just me. But Albert is listed as part of the Pat Metheny Group Listener Network, they've employed some of the same players, and Albert and others make the same connection.
The shame is that The Color Of Things is overall a pretty good album, helped greatly by its lineup. Saxophonist Katisse Buckingham and drummer Jimmy Branly combine on an engaging solo on the title track. Buckingham's breathy flute trills are a strong contribution elsewhere. Albert displays some nice Brazilian ballad chops on "Choro To Catarina," with some fine interplay and support by pianist by Tamir Hendelman, who creates harmonies with flawless unity at times. (I subsequently saw in the liner notes that the guitarist dedicates the song to his mother, which may account for the more personal touch.) The closing "We Are Alive" transitions from an intriguing entering march to Yellowjackets-like modernismhardly a surprise here and on some other songs, given the presence of keyboardist Russell Ferrante.
Much as a departure from Metheny is needed, the slightly acid-laced scat/rap lyrics and muted trumpet of Mark Ledford dropped abruptly into the middle of "Aguas" aren't necessarily the ideal way to achieve that goal. It's an awkward fit, more like a mismatched puzzle piece forced into place the the polished composition found most of the time elsewhere.
The Color Of Things is not a simple album. There's plenty of complex meter and timbre mixes, plus good use of a variety of traditional and ethnic instrumentation. But it too often sounds simple, wrapping the listener in a familiarity that makes it hard to appreciate its standout qualities. To say it underachieves isn't really fair; it's more a feeling of knowing something better lies not far from the surface, just out of reach.
1. Message Across the Sea; 2. The Color of Things; 3. They Walk Among Us; 4. Minas to
Rio; 5. Choro to Catarina; 6. If We Could Dance Now; 7. Aguas; 8. It Sounds Like Her;
9. Rafaela's Dream; 10. We Are Alive
Sandro Albert (acoustic 6-string guitar, acoustic 12-string guitar, electric guitar); Mark
Ledford (vocals, trumpet); Jean Baylor (vocals); Katisse Buckingham (flute, soprano
saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone); Frank Marocco (accordion); Edsel Gomez,
Tamir Hendelman (piano); Matt Rohde (Hammond B-3 organ); Russell Ferrante
(keyboards); Mike Valerio (double bass); Jimmy Branly (drums); Airto Moreira, Luis Conte
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