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Jazz Is Pianist's Worldwide Web

E-mail from Europe and Latin America has Freddie Ravel thinking on a global scale. He tries to reach the masses with 'Sol to Soul.'


Freddie Ravel has a couple of sources of inspiration for his new release. One is Quincy Jones' hit 1981 album, "The Dude," which contains tunes in jazz, R & B, Latin and Brazilian styles. The other, he said, is the world itself.

"This is an incredibly exciting time, a time that makes me think globally," said Ravel. "It's so much easier to connect with other peoples. I get e-mail (his Web site is from listeners in Europe and Latin America. So I wanted 'Sol to Soul' to reach out to a lot of people, make it a hybrid, an album that bridges Latin elements, R & B and more, all through the web of jazz."

The dandy new album on Verve Forecast Record may, in fact, have outdone Jones. "Sol to Soul," a 13-tune collection, includes at least six styles: There's pensive acoustic jazz on "In a Sentimental Mood"; robust Latin jazz on "Havana Nights" and "Dance for the Sol"; and percolating salsa with "Quedate conmigo" replete with Spanish lyrics sung vibrantly by Mexican ace Luis Enrique. In addition, there are vocal numbers in R & B, Latin and Brazilian modes.

On the market just 10 weeks, the album is getting a lot of positive response. It's the No. 14 album on the latest Radio and Records Magazine New Adult Contemporary chart and is being played on several radio formats.

KLON-FM (88.1) plays "In a Sentimental Mood" and "Havana Nights," the all-Spanish KLVE-FM (107.5) is offering "Quedate" and KTWV-FM includes "Sailaway," a medium-slow track with a laid-back piano solo.

That acoustic piano, which Ravel plays on every cut on the album, creates a sound that is "the thread that sews this garment together," he said.

The 35-year-old Los Angeles native, who lives in Van Nuys, started on piano at age 10 and graduated cum laude from Cal State Northridge with a degree in piano pedagogy in 1982. And while many performing situations require that he play synthesizers, as when he served as Earth, Wind and Fire's musical director from 1992 to '95, he prefers his original instrument.

"I love what synthesizers do, but they can't replace the beautiful dynamics of the piano," said Ravel. "On the piano you, in fact, have an orchestra. You can hold down the sustain pedal and play 30 notes. You can't do that with a synthesizer, which also doesn't have the piano's sympathetic vibration--the way the strings vibrate within the wood of the piano. When I play, I feel a lot of tingling up my fingers. It makes the experience very emotional. The piano is a Rolls-Royce kind of thing."

On Saturday, Ravel has two engagements, an afternoon set at the Glendale Galleria and an evening show at La Ve Lee in Studio City. Sadly, he'll play piano at neither, but he'll come close when he employs an acoustic piano sound on his Kurzweil electronic keyboard.

At both locations, he'll work with a top-drawer sextet of musicians, many of whom appeared on "Sol to Soul": Ronnie Gutierrez (drums, with Bernie Dresel subbing at the Galleria), Mike Miller (guitar), Jimmy Earl (bass), Kevin Richard (percussion) and Leslie Smith (vocals).

While Ravel revels in the large crowds drawn to outdoor events--such as the Galleria or last week's Playboy Jazz Festival concert in Pasadena attended by 15,000--he also cherishes small gatherings at a room such as La Ve Lee.

"There's something about a smaller venue where you take more chances, are more exploratory," he said. "It's not like a festival where people eat chicken, clap along, dance, talk. In a club, people sit and listen and that raises the creative level to a certain extent."

Freddie Ravel plays at 3 and 4:45 p.m. Saturday at the JC Penney Court Stage at Glendale Galleria, corner of Colorado Street and Central Avenue, Glendale; free; (818) 240-9481. Ravel plays Saturday (and again June 21), 9:30 and 11:30 p.m., at La Ve Lee, 12514 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Cover charge, $8, two-drink minimum. Information: (818) 980-8158.

Short Takes: Speaking of chance-taking, that's what saxophonists Michael Sessions and Bob Sheppard are known for. The pair, who appear at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, respectively, at Bjlauzezs (14502 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; $5 cover without dinner; [818] 789-4583), both lead acoustic, post-bebop quartets and will no doubt come up with stuff surprising to listeners and themselves.

More diverse in their presentation will be sax man Joseph Bautista and trombonist Jonathan Rotter, whose quintet appears at 8 p.m. Sunday at Common Grounds (9250 Reseda Blvd., Northridge; no cover, $2.50 minimum purchase; [818] 882-3666). The leaders play everything from bebop to funk.

Guitarist Brad Rabuchin, who also explores a wide range of approaches--accenting crisp contemporary jazz that has intellect and feeling--arrives at Common Grounds on Tuesday, also at 8 p.m.

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