For a fleeting moment -just one fleeting moment- it appears to be a bit of a stretch putting “bolero” and Billie Holiday together. There appears to be a tad too much “bolero” and not enough “Holiday” on Brian Lynch’s Bolero Nights (Venus Records – Japan 2009). Soon, however, the plaintive wail of Lynch’s trumpet and moan of his flugelhorn and the moody arrangements of “Afinque” start to tie “bolero” and Billie Holiday rather tightly together. Although the music is by no means ponderous and depressing to listen to, there is an elemental sadness to it. This is a masterstroke on the part of Lynch because Billie Holiday embodied something similar as she sang her heart out on so many classics. Mercifully, Lynch also avoids the obvious ones. However, he is masterful in mimicing the voice of the great chanteuse with long “blue” notes -especially in the first chorus of “La Sitiera,” when Lynch draws them out in his inimitable manner with dynamic expression. Only some of Ellington’s great trumpeters were known to have done this with untouchable effect, and trumpeters such as Larry Cramer and Reynaldo Melian.
Another masterstroke on the part of Lynch is the presence of Phill Woods. His malleable alto has become infinitely more distinctive with the passage of time. His narrative solo on Charles Mingus’ “Celia” is full of dramatic twists and turns. His is one of the most lifelike descriptions of Celia Zaentz as she swishes hips and high-heels it out of the bassist’s life into what is depicted as darkness, leaving Mingus alone to be swallowed up in the gathering gloom. Ron Blake is also superb and at his bellowing best. Lynch exchanges flugelhorn for trumpet in the climax of the song to heighten the sense of drama at the end of the song. In this arrangement, Lynch actually manages to give this old song new flair by recasting it as if Mingus might have done it in Tijuana Moods or on Cumbia and Jazz Fusion. Either way it is an exquisite reminder of the universality of Mingus’ music in the manner that Ellington’s was.
“Fire Waltz” is another superb arrangement of Mal Waldron’s classic. The heat is turned up by mighty trumpet work from Lynch and a wild and fiery alto solo by Ivan Renta on alto saxophone. Hoffman’s harmonics are completely and utterly alluring and unexpected. Both solos are elastic and breathtaking, especially with stretched out notes by both horn men. The use of guiro and surdo or tympani in percussion is especially noteworthy as it adds to the sombre nature of the song. “Delilah” is another song where the “blue” of the melody and the fact that Lynch uses his flugelhorn together with perfunctory blowing by Marshall Gilkes on trombone in the background makes a fine piece of work on this Victor Young chart. This track is also one where Boris Kozlov gives notice as to why he is a charter member of the Mingus Orchestra. His playing con arco for two choruses is majestic and soulful and fills the heart with a deep sense of wonder.Woods and Lynch play off each other again; on “I’m A Fool To Want You”, they recall the relationship between Pres and Holliday, who often played off each other in a similar, dolorous manner. Again, the trombone of Gilkes is mournful and sublime as is the saxophone of Ivan Renta, yet again. As Lynch returns, again he is pitch-perfect and leads into a short, but pithy solo by the young Zaccai Curtis. Although Billie Holiday sung several of these charts in her day, “You’ve Changed” is the easiest to recall from her songbook. Lynch’s longish introductions add further drama to his arrangements of these fine charts and the one that introduces Phil Woods again is no exception. Again, Kozlov is outstanding here, with melodic pizzacato accompaniment to Woods’ second sortie, which he introduces with a series of short tripets in fine manner, before settling into a longish mellow tone.There has been only one other record in the past five years that has sung in rich praise of the bolero as Brian Lynch’s Bolero Nights has done and that is Charlie Haden’s Nocturne and that record was showered with rewards. It is hoped that this record too will find favor in the festival of awards functions that are just around the corner. They will all be well deserved.
Tracks: 1. Afinque; 2. La Sitiera; 3. Celia; 4. Fire Waltz; 5. Delilah; 6. I’m A Fool To Want You; 7. You’ve Changed.
Personnel: Brian Lynch: trumpet and flugelhorn; Phil Woods: alto saxophone (3, 6, 7); Ivan Renta: alto saxophone; Alan Hoffman: tenor saxophone; Marshall Gilkes: trombone; Ron Blake: baritone saxophone; Zaccai Curtis: piano; Boris Kozlov: bass; Little Johnny Rivero: congas, bongos and percussion; Marvin Diz: timbales and drums.