Omar Sosa Opens a Window—Again

AF_OMAR SOSA_ILE_FINAL2Omar Sosa Quarteto AfroCubano, Ilé (Otá Records)
A Review

Personal memory and ancestral memory are the hinges on which the window of Omar Sosa’s latest recording, Ilé (Otá Records), swings open. The word Ilé, which comes from the Lucumí tradition of Cuba, means home or earth, and the home that Sosa references is located where the personal and ancestral
intersect: Memories of a childhood in
Camagüey, Cuba, where two of his Quarteto AfroCubano bandmates, Ernesto Simpson (drums, vocal, kalimba) and Leandro Saint-Hill (alto and soprano saxophones, flute, clarinet, vocal) also grew up. Memories of his mother, who passed away just days after the recording was finished, after losing her own memory in a long struggle with Alzheimer’s. Memories of Africa, the homeland of the quartet’s other member, Childo Tomas (bass, kalimba, vocal), and Spain, where Sosa now resides—two lands whose
people and cultures flooded Cuba and mixed for centuries. Continue reading

Tim Berne’s Snakeoil: A Sure Remedy for the Everyday Blues

Tim Berne's SnakeoilIf necessity is the mother of invention, then desperation must be the mother of reinvention, judging from Tim Berne’s story of his introduction to the saxophone. The intrepid alto
saxophonist and composer didn’t touch the instrument until he was in college, and although he was a huge music fan, the only thing he’d played before that, he confesses, was “a little
basketball.”

“I couldn’t imagine being a normal person, having a job, so I was kind of desperate to find
something that wasn’t quite the norm,” he says. “So by accident, I got a saxophone for a
hundred bucks.”

Nice accident. Four decades later, with an immediately recognizable sound on his horn and an impressive body of work to his credit, it’s hard to imagine how Berne could ever have been
anything but the groundbreaking musician he is. This Thursday, he’ll bring his Snakeoil band, featuring Oscar Noriega (clarinets), Matt Mitchell (piano), and Ches Smith (percussion), to GiG and the Outpost, to celebrate the release of their third album on the ECM label, You’ve Been Watching Me.

Continue reading

Bébé La La Finds Their Balance on High Wire

Bébé La La: Maryse Lapierre and Alicia Ultan.

Bébé La La: Maryse Lapierre and Alicia Ultan.

The French-Canadian idiom “bébé la la” refers to foolish behavior, but the singing/songwriting duo that call themselves Bébé La La—Maryse Lapierre (vocals, accordion, harmonium) and
Alicia Ultan (vocals, guitar, viola) are anything but. Fun, high-spirited, and occasionally giggly for sure, but never foolish, as their debut album, High Wire, clearly demonstrates.

Beautifully produced by John Wall and Bébé La La, and recorded and engineered by Wall at his Wall of Sound Studio, the tunes on High Wire face down a variety of difficult situations—from
income inequality on the political front to trying love affairs on the personal front—on the strength of mesmeric harmonies and a spunky equilibrium. Bébé La La will be celebrating the release of High Wire with a performance this Saturday at Las Amapolas Event Center. Continue reading

Blossom Blooms in Barbara Bentree

Barbara Bentree

Barbara Bentree

Vocalist/pianist Barbara Bentree wasn’t particularly impressed the first time she heard a
recording of the late vocalist/pianist Blossom Dearie. Bentree’s husband, pianist John Rangel, suggested that she check out the singer, whose career spanned seven decades and who won the respect of some of America’s greatest songwriters. “Then, of course, what I would pull up was ‘Peel Me a Grape’ or something,” says Bentree, “and I was ‘Hmm, I don’t know.’ ”

One day, though, Bentree entered Dearie’s name into the iTunes search field, and over 400 recordings came up. “I went, ‘Wow, that’s significant,’ ” she says, “and then, so I just started
playing them and then downloading them.” Bentree enjoyed the material that Dearie chose for herself, and the more she heard, the more she realized that the singer was not as “cutesy” as she had first believed, and had a wonderful “range in her sound.” When she started researching Dearie’s life, Bentree found a strong woman ahead of her time.

“I’m not a jazz aficionado, but in my mind, I just don’t know if she’s really gotten her due,”
Bentree says.green_cover-100

With Thursday’s concert at the Outpost, Bentree, who won the 2012 New Mexico Music Award for Best Vocal Performance on her album Green, hopes to raise Dearie’s visibility a bit, with the help of Rangel, guitarist Michael Anthony, bassist Andy Zadrozny, and drummer John Trentacosta. Continue reading

A Trip Away from the Ordinary

Myra-Melford-Snowy-Egret-Cover-Art-300x270Myra Melford, Snowy Egret
(Enja/Yellowbird)
A Review

When I first heard that pianist/composer Myra Melford was working on a project whose inspiration was the Memory of Fire trilogy by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano, the blood rushed to my ears in anticipation of what I would hear. A masterwork of profound scholarship and imagination, Memory of Fire presents a highly refracted history of the Americas in short, vivid entries drawn from indigenous myths and memories and from written accounts by those who found their way to the New World and stayed—a hemispheric diary that stretches from pre-Columbian civilizations into the 20th century. Inspired by the trilogy, Melford created a multimedia piece, Language of Dreams, that illuminates Galeano’s words with music, video, dance, and recitation. The 10 tracks on Snowy Egret (Enja/Yellowbird) present an instrumental version of most of that music, with the same stunning band assembled for the original project—Ron Miles (trumpet), Liberty Ellman (guitar), Stomu Takeishi (bass), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums). Pulling from a musical palette that includes East Indian, African, European, and Latin and Northern American influences, the wizard Melford has created an exceptional work whose scholarship and imagination are worthy of the book that inspired it. Continue reading