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This Odessa/Havana flight misses some connections

December 03, 2007|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

The polyglot ensemble Odessa/Havana brought a potentially intriguing musical concept -- described by the group as an "explosive Jewish-Cuban musical mash-up" -- to the Skirball Center's World Mosaic series Thursday night.

A combination of the rhythms of Cuba, the spontaneity of jazz and the traditions of the Sephardic and Roma cultures in a creative melting pot sounds like a delicious musical recipe. Despite the vastly disparate elements, it's not hard to imagine a common ground of rhythmic intensity, passionate melody-making and free-flowing improvisation.

But, as the proverb says, good intentions don't always lead down the best road. And Odessa/Havana's concept was far more appealing in the imagining than it was in reality. A good part of the problem was the failure of the music to create a full-out blend of the various ingredients. Too often one simply followed the other -- a montuno into a hora, a rhapsodic piano segment into a free-blowing sax solo.

Nor was the performance enhanced by the frequent faulty intonation in the ensemble passages between David Buchbinder's trumpet, Quinsin Nachoff's clarinet and Aleksandar Gajic's violin, or the brutally high volume of the sound system.

Individual compositions -- especially those by Cuban pianist Hilario Duran, who led the ensemble with Buchbinder -- revealed traces of authenticity. In many cases, however, there was a wearying tendency to extend the music beyond the point of creative productivity.

On the plus side, the rhythm team of bassist Roberto Occhipinti, drummer Mark Kelso and percussionist Rick Shadrach Lazar covered everything they were asked to do with enthusiasm and musical panache. Duran delivered several stirringly authentic solos, and Nachoff's tenor saxophone playing was an impressive display of sizzling, post-Coltrane inventiveness. Ultimately, however, Odessa/Havana was a promise delivered only in bits and pieces.

But there's still hope. If Buchbinder and Duran can find a way to match the concept to the creative level of some of the soloing, they'll definitely have something.

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