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JAZZ | CD Reviews

One Cuban Vocalist Who Has It All

September 29, 2002|HOWARD REICH

****

MAYRA CARIDAD VALDES

"La Diosa del Mar"

Jazzheads

Though she doesn't yet command a fraction of the fame she deserves, Valdes owns one of the most thrilling female voices in the Afro-Caribbean tradition. Whether unspooling gloriously low, throaty notes on "Drume Negrita," firing off brilliant scat improvisation on "Mambo Influenciado" or radically reconceiving the venerable "Besame Mucho," Valdes proves that she has it all: a magnificent instrument, a complete technique and a musical imagination that won't quit. (She comes from a Cuban musical family that includes her brother, pianist Chucho Valdes.) Not many vocalists could finesse the ferociously syncopated rhythms of Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce" as effortlessly as Valdes does, while also capturing the folkloric spirit of Ernesto Duarte's "Como Fue."

Joined by a top-notch sextet, Valdes sings not as a lead vocalist but, rather, as simply another member of the band, nimbly trading phrases with the instrumentalists at often unusually brisk tempos. By any measure, "La Diosa del Mar" is a tour de force of the art of jazz singing.

*

*** 1/2

KAHIL EL'ZABAR TRIO

"Love Outside of Dreams"

Delmark Records

A percussionist who defies categorization, El'Zabar has built a formidable reputation powering such avant-garde ensembles as the Ritual Trio and the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble and collaborating with visionaries such as baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett and violinist Billy Bang. Here, El'Zabar presides over the final recording of a stylistically free-ranging trio that, alas, came to an end with the death of pioneering bassist Fred Hopkins in 1999.

Fortunately, this belated release captures the trio in its full glory, with El'Zabar, Hopkins and reedist David Murray creating vivid music capable of thundering at one moment, whispering the next. Several of the cuts convey a palpable sense of serenity, and when the trio turns up the heat, there's no resisting the torrent of sound that issues from Murray's mighty tenor sax, the intensity and drive of El'Zabar's percussion or the hard-charging ideas that Hopkins ignites on bass.

*

*** 1/2

PAQUITO D'RIVERA

"Brazilian Dreams"

Manchester Craftsmen's Guild

Though it comes as no surprise that the great Cuban reedist is persuasive in Brazilian repertoire, D'Rivera's "Brazilian Dreams" exceeds expectations, in part because of his intuitive partnership with guest trumpeter Claudio Roditi and New York Voices. To hear D'Rivera's often melancholy clarinet lines set against the plush ensemble singing of the vocal ensemble is like beholding an emerald in a crushed-velvet box.

The exquisite arabesques that D'Rivera articulates on "Corcovado," the long and elegiac phrases he spins in "One for Tom" and the low-register clarinet riffs he plays on "Manha De Carnival" point to the unassailable musicianship of a reedist more often admired for the fluidity of his technique. Lest anyone think this is just another commercial traversal of Brazilian standards, a track such as "Modinha" argues strongly to the contrary, its daringly slow vocal passages dovetailing with D'Rivera's mournful, profoundly expressive lines on clarinet.

*

*** 1/2

CONTE CANDOLI

"Candoli Live"

Nagel Heyer Records

In a career that spanned more than half a century, Candoli stood as one of the most versatile trumpeters in the business. Candoli's death in December silenced one of the signal voices of West Coast jazz, but this live recording will remind listeners of his appeal as soloist and bandleader.

Recorded in 2000 in Germany, the disc shows Candoli playing with the directness and authority that were his hallmarks, offering inexorable swing rhythm on his own "I Dig Fig" and stylish phrasings on "There Is No Greater Love." Yet for all the hard-hitting power of Candoli's work, the man also was capable of producing delicately poetic lines, as on a muted version of "Lover Man." In all, a fitting farewell to an indispensable jazz musician.

Howard Reich is jazz critic at the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune company.

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