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Attention, diplomats: Global unity is possible

Musicians of different cultures find a common ground on new albums.

March 30, 2003|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Shakespeare may have been somewhat optimistic when he suggested that "music hath charms to soothe the savage breast." Given the current state of the world, one suspects that were he around today, working with a word processor, he may well have clicked the "delete" button shortly after he typed the phrase.

Nonetheless, the powers of music may be best appreciated at precisely the times when it seems least significant. In today's world, especially, those powers reach beyond the music itself into its capacity to bring players of vastly different cultures together in a mutual expression of feelings and ideas. And no music has done that better than jazz, which -- with its dual components of rhythm and improvisation -- has an extraordinary capacity to establish common ground.

With that thought in mind, here is a group of current albums displaying -- in a variety of ways -- the thread of shared expressiveness that connects jazz artists from every part of the globe.

Bill Frisell

"The Intercontinentals" (Nonesuch)

*** 1/2

Guitarist Frisell has so many musical personas that one shouldn't be surprised at anything he does. But the Intercontinentals, a band he formed in 2001, manages to reach beyond even his eclecticism. For starters, the personnel consists of Brazilian composer-singer-guitarist Vinicius Cantuaria; Greek-Macedonian oud and bouzouki player Christos Govetas; percussionist Sidiki Camara from Mali; with the occasional participation of violinist Jenny Scheinman and pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz. That's about as diverse a lineup as any musical globalist could wish for, and it's not surprising the group's efforts are virtually indefinable, sometimes surfacing with a floating, African feeling, sometimes recalling down-home American country music, at other times -- especially in the vocal numbers with Cantuaria and Govetas -- finding the compatible vibrations between Africa and the New World. But nothing is predictable, and the great beauty of this album is the consistent surprises it offers.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday April 05, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
"Music" quote -- The Jazz Spotlight column in the March 30 Calendar incorrectly attributed the quote "Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast" to Shakespeare. The author is William Congreve.

Myriam Alter

"If" (Enja)

***

The Belgian composer has written a group of pieces for an ensemble that combines an American jazz quartet -- clarinetist John Ruocco, pianist Kenny Werner, bassist Greg Cohen and drummer Joey Baron -- with Argentine bandoneon artist Dino Saluzzi. The succulent timbres resulting from the blending of bandoneon and clarinet are marvelous, and Alter makes the most of the combination. Much of the music has a moody quality, at times calling up images of pre-World War II cabarets, at other times seducing with the sensuality of the samba, and in other instances simmering with gentle tango rhythms. The soloing -- especially by Ruocco and Werner -- adds piquant touches of jazz authenticity, and Alter's capacity to write winning melodies is the glue that brings the music's many diverse elements into compatible togetherness.

Fred Hersch

and Norma Winstone

"Songs & Lullabies" (Sunnyside)

***

Jazz singing has tended, more than almost any other of the music's genres, to remain an American provenance. But there have been exceptions, and the estimable English artist Norma Winstone is one of the finest. In this unusual collection, she sings a program of 11 tunes in which she has written lyrics to instrumental works by Hersch, performed by the duo (with vibist Gary Burton playing on two tracks). The empathic intimacy of the words and music is enhanced by similarly symbiotic performance connectivity. Hersch's melody lines often place arching demands on Winstone's voice, but her smooth and confident delivery fully justifies the praise she has received over the past three decades as one of the jazz vocal world's most gifted practitioners.

Hiromi

"Another Mind" (Telarc Jazz)

***

Hiromi Uehara is, at 21, an up-and-coming jazz star, a powerful pianist and a gifted composer even before her scheduled graduation from the Berklee College of Music next year. The debut album is an obvious attempt to showcase the far-reaching skills of this young artist from Shizuoka, Japan. And it does a good job, with Hiromi displaying a facile technique and a fiery musical temperament. Many of the pieces seem to vibrate and surge with the nonstop sensory stimulation of the Ginza, with busy bass lines and crisply dissonant harmonies. But it is in the quieter, more pensive moments -- in which virtuosic technique is set aside -- that Hiromi's extraordinary potential is more fully revealed.

Dino Saluzzi

"Responsorium" (ECM Records)

***

The similarities between jazz, blues and the tangos of Argentina have often been noted. And tango's most famous proponent, Astor Piazzolla, found frequent opportunities to interact artistically with jazz players. Saluzzi -- like Piazzolla -- plays the soulful-sounding, accordion-like bandoneon in a fashion that brings rich, often dissonant qualities, to traditional tango. Although he has performed with Al Di Meola, it is in this album that his own jazz connectiveness comes into full flower. In considerable measure this rich sense of moving rhythms and brisk, jazz-based accents traces to the presence of Swedish bassist Palle Danielsson and the growing jazz skills of guitarist Jose M. Saluzzi, Dino's son. The engaging qualities of the music they produce as an ensemble -- all of it written by Saluzzi -- are irresistible, a compelling example of a sexy, loving relationship between two musical genres.

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