Sam Newsome and Lucian Ban took a handful of Romanian folk songs and gave them jazz arrangements, then combined them with some original songs inspired by Romanian culture to produce The Romanian-American Jazz Suite, an excellent balance of the modern and the traditional, rendered artfully by a first-rate band.
"Transylvanian Dance" isn't what one would expect. It's laid-back funk, with Sorin Romanescu scratching on guitar and altoist Newsome and the irrepressible Alex Harding on baritone sax having a humorous and dynamic conversation toward the middle. Ballads like "Carol," "Home" and "Where Is Home" (Newsome sings like a nightingale on the latter two) are rendered with absolute tenderness, with perfect interplay among the band, specifically Ban's usual sure and lovely touch on the piano. "Danube Stroll" doesn't waltz; it's steaming, in-your-face funk. And once Harding steps up with his baritone on the head of the folk song "Colinda," the listener has no chance.
The only song that sounds distinctly Romanian here is, fittingly, "Bucharest, Part One," with nice percussion by Willard Dyson and Harding's moving bass clarinet setting up Newsome's beautiful harmonics-spiked coda that leads right into "Bucharest, Part Two," the jazzier of the twins. Harding's screeching, growling baritone solo here makes one think of how Trane might have sounded had he spent any time with the big horn.
Translations of European folk songs into the jazz idiom certainly isn't new, but one would be hard pressed to find a better example of how it should be done than this.
Track Listing: Transylvanian Dance; Carol; Danube Stroll; Home; Prelude; Golinda; Bucharest, Part One; Bucharest, Part Two; Where Is Home?.
Personnel: Sam Newsome: soprano sax; Alex Harding: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Lucian Ban: piano; Sorin Romanescu: guitar; Arthur Balogh: bass; Willard Dyson: drums.
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