(PRA Records PRA-CD-61014)
In 1995 the former Crusader pianist played a festival at St Croix in
the Virgin Islands. He was struck by the contrast between the tranquil
setting and the brutal history of the place on the slave route. This
suite of songs is the result.
A project which features not only Sample’s piano but also the
drumming of Steve Gadd and the trombone-playing and production of Nils
Landgren was never going to be a bleak affair; instead Sample and his
cohorts stress the triumph of light over darkness, life over death.
The results are joyous and exuberant, the marvellous German big band
bold and blustery, the soloists flying along on their trade winds. From
the opening groove set down by Gadd and the piano riff Sample adds we
know we’re in for a fine time, and when the full band adds its strongly
swinging sections – the arrangements are by Jörg Achim Keller – the
whole thing takes on a great big sunny glow.
The track titles – Buttermilk Sky, Rumfire, Gold In The Cane, Creole Eyes – say it all.
Joe Sample died last September, so this 2011 recording stands as a
fitting reminder of his marvellous mix of jazz, blues, R&B and that
inimitable “gulf coast funk”.
In an era where the main "jazz and Blues festival" here is content to boast of Mariah Carey as principal draw, its heartening to learn that Haiti has its own jazz fest, happening from jan 17-24, and that the line-up is in fact, quite credible and attractive from a jazz fan's standpoint:
Yellowjackets and local legends Boukman Ekspereyans are included this year, while previous outings have featured renowned players such as Mino Cinelu, Henry Texier, and American pianist Aaron Goldberg.
Names of no meaning to all but a handful of Jamaicans, but to those who know and love the form, a good recommendation to make the trip to Port au Prince (which, capital to capital, is actually closer to Kingston than Havana.) For eight days, Port-au-Prince swings with jazz rhythms. The Festival participants pour into historic public spaces of the capital, such as the historic Sugar Cane Park with its gardens and vestiges from the colonial era, the gardens of the prestigious Karibe Hotel, and the FOKAL Cultural Center located in the heart of Port-au-Prince. For the after hours jam sessions, festival-goers fill the most attractive restaurants of Pétion-Ville, the nightlife neighborhood of the capital.
To achieve its mission to promote music and especially jazz around the country, the Fondation Haiti Jazz - the Festival's primary organizers - offers free music training workshops to young, local musicians in collaboration with the participating international music professionals.
It was inevitable that we'd hear more from the meeting between pianist Roberto Magris and the late Herb Geller - the first recorded collaboration was 2009's "Il Bello Di Jazz" on Soul Note.
Now, through his American-based label JMood Records, the ever-resourceful Magris has released a continuation of that delightful output
American-born and coming of age just at the time when bebop was reaching its peak, Geller not only beat the "Bird trap"(he admits to being influenced, but not a copy of, alto sax great Benny Carter) but also, partly by virtue of moving to Germany, managed to developed a wholly personal sound not beholden to any of the US titans who would star on the alto horn during the post-War period
Its a sinuous yet sturdy sound, neatly modulated, but without being clinical, essentially capable of anything Magris' lush, ebullient yet similarly well-ordered pianisms
The supporting cast definitely makes their presence felt on this record, especially drummer Enzo Carpentieri who alternate scorches and soothes with tremendous gusto throughout the disc. Prie examples: the Zoot Sims classic, "The Red Door" and a staple pf the Basie Orchestra "9:20 Special"
The high point comes fairly early on with "Lonely Woman" (the Benny Carter tune, not the Ornette Coleman nor the Horace Silver tunes of the same title), although the Sondheim piece, "Pretty Woman", which closes the disc also comes close in terms of effect.
I guess one can never underestimate the power of a woman to move the energies of men.
Whatever their muse, this is a first-class session that only stands as a worthy tribute to an unsung jazz titan, but pretty much makes a statement on its own musical merits. If you want jazz that stirs, seduces, skips and kicks in equal good measure, this is your ticket.
Herb Geller, rest well. Magris & Co, - onward to greater.
This column has tended to have good fortune with Italian pianists. We have had the pleasure of featuring several excellent albums by Robert Magris, and now we have a pair from Dino Massa: Anime Diverse - a quartet date, and Un Po Come Noi, a trio outing.