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Essential Albums

Al McKibbon: Black Orchid

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Al McKibbon - Black Orchid

Al McKibbon was one of the finest modern melodic bassists. The fact that he could play with the great Herbie Nichols will testify to that fact. Always wise beyond his time, Mr. McKibbon accompanied many fine musicians including Dizzy Gillespie. He is also one of the finest musicians to interpret the Latin Jazz idiom. Unlike many musicians in New York who strayed into Latin Jazz upon being influenced by the Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican tinge, Al McKibbon absorbed the music so completely that he soon became one of its finest exponents. Sadly, Mr. McKibbon made only two albums as leader in his long and illustrious career. The first was Tumbao Para Los Congueros De Mi Vida (Blue Lady Records, 1999) and the second was this astounding recording, Black Orchid which was made about a year before he passed away. He was 84 when he made it. His sound—far from frail—sounds as muscular and commanding as ever. His tone is moist and deep, and sharply angled, like rays of brilliant light that emerges from his soul. His notes are plump and magnificently dense with colour. These notes sing and dance as if they were thrust onto an imaginary waxen floor. They leap and pirouette and act as if they were Mr. McKibbon’s paramour; a prima donna, but dances not only for her lover, but all and the performance continues throughout the album.

Black Orchid is a superb album, full of surprise in its dramatic twists and turns. And Mr. McKibbon is at his very best. He plays joyously throughout although his tone is dense, his timbre pristine and his colours dark and beautiful. He plays brilliantly slashing notes that angle across the guitar of Barry Zweig and Frank Morocco’s accordion, the piano of Donald Vega and the flute of Justo Almario and Billy Strayhorn’s “U.M.M.G.” becomes a statuesque architectural marvel. Mr. Strayhorn’s other composition “Isfahan” gets the full Mediterranean treatment, emerging from a marvelous palette of colour; its density bringing the beguiling souk to life. Here Mr. McKibbon is magisterial with his flashing and viscous colours splashed on a tapestry of earthy tones and magnificent colour. He makes “Black Orchid” sound dark and mysterious; His version of “Little Niles” is joyous and masterful. “Ode to Billie Joe” is touching in its elegiac manner. “Tres Palabras” is magical; a beautiful bolero that shows how deep and mystical the voice and the svelte the bass of Mr. McKibbon can be. “Monsieur Phillipe” is simply beautiful and paints a masterful portrait of its subject. The only composition that the bassist brought to the date is a blues, “Big Al’s Blues.” It is a song that is exquisitely melancholic.

Mr. McKibbon had, very early in his life, developed a magnificent tumbao—a melodic bass line with a deep reverence and an impeccable sense of time that was the envy of many bassists. This is on display throughout the album. Ironically this served him well for both his jazz and Latin Jazz idiomatic playing. It is what recommended him to Herbie Nichols in 1955 and continued on until 1956. It is also what brought him to the attention of Cal Tjader. Mr. McKibbon continues to be sorely missed in both worlds.

Track List: U.M.M.G.; Black Orchid; Little Niles; Tres Palabras; Ode To Billie Joe; Monsieur Phillipe; Isfahan; Big Al’s Blues.

Personnel: Al McKibbon: bass; Frank Morocco: accordion; Barry Zweig: guitar; Ramon Banda: drums; Donald Vega: piano; Justo Almario: flute; Joe DeLeon: percussion; Rob Kyle: saxophone.

Label: Niche Records| Release date: January 2004

Website: wikipedia.org | Buy music on: amazon

About Al McKibbon

In 1947, after working with Lucky Millinder, Tab Smith, J. C. Heard, and Coleman Hawkins, he replaced Ray Brown in Dizzy Gillespie’s band, in which he played until 1950. In the 1950s he recorded with the Miles Davis nonet, Earl Hines, Count Basie, Johnny Hodges, Thelonious Monk, George Shearing, Cal Tjader, Herbie Nichols and Hawkins. McKibbon was credited with interesting Tjader in Latin music while he played in Shearing’s group.

McKibbon has always been highly regarded (among other signs of this regard, he was the bassist for the Giants of Jazz), and continued to perform until 2004. In 1999, at age 80, he recorded his first album in his own name, Tumbao Para Los Congueros De Mi Vida (Blue Lady Records), which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Performance. McKibbon’s second album, Black Orchid (Niche Records), was released in 2004. He also wrote the Afterword to Raul Fernandez’ book, Latin Jazz, part of the Smithsonian Institution’s series of exhibitions on jazz.

(Source: wikipedia.org)

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

Essential Albums

Azymuth: Telecommunications

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This album, Telecommunications, is one of the most iconic recordings by Azymuth, the ineffably funky Brasilian trio. When it was released – on the Milestone label in 1982 – it became a monumental hit, propelling the group, it went Gold and exploded into the Top 10 in the British Charts, soaring heavenward in popularity all over Europe too.

It’s not hard to understand the extraordinary popularity of Azymuth. First and foremost has to be the unmatched funkiness of all the musicians who made up the original trio: keyboards superstar, vocalist and percussionist José Roberto Bertrami, who sadly passed away on July 8th 1012, Ivan Mamão Conti, who just has to be considered one of the most funky drummers since Zigaboo Modeliste, [who practically invented funk drumming as one of the illustrious members of the iconic New Orleans group The Meters], and bassist Alex Malherios whose rumble and roar made for the glue [together with Mamão] that solidified the rhythmic edifice of the trio, while the soloist [particularly, Bertrami] launched himself on his mighty solo flights.

Azymuth: Telecommunications
Azymuth: Telecommunications

It may have been the syncopation of choro that carried over into Brasili’s most iconic urban music and dance forms – samba, a versatile rhythm that can assume many forms. Heated up, with a shouted call-and-response verse backed by literally thousands of samba-school drums on parade, it becomes samba de enredo [the mass Carnival music that is famous the world over]. But what happens when you take the vocals out of the musical equation, funk up the rhythm, add a rumbling electric bass guitar and jazz up the rippling Brasilian percussion?

That’s when you get the funkiest music that became the clarion call of Brasilian funk music ensembles, of which Azymuth was probably the most famous, plying its stock-in-trade at all the major jazz festivals – from the Americas to Europe – Monterey to Montreux and way beyond.  The music on this seminal album, Telecommunications is characteristic of Azymuth at its very best. The repertoire came at a time when this heavyweight trio had reached the apogee of the musical style that continues to be a niche. A style that it had carved out for itself, with an eclectic, jazzy mix of Brasilian rhythms upon which were overlaid dallying soli by Mr Bertrami and Mamão, together with the rumbling bass of Mr Malherios.

Azymuth Trio
Azymuth Trio

Telecommunications’ opener “Estreito de Taruma” features a filing solo by the great Brasilian guitarist Helio Delmirio. The warm sonority, clean technique and penchant for spare ornamentation in his playing made him a guitarist like none other to come out of the raging flood of guitarists that cascaded out of the ocean of Brasilian music. The music that Mr Delmirio sculpted, from the steel strings at his fingertips, made the musical notes fly off the paper. His lines floated askance, oblique to the not so predictable keyboard playing by Mr Bertrami.

Throughout the two sides of this vinyl –superbly remastered by George Horn, by the way– we find music that is a testament to the musicians’ [and composers’] boundless invention. This music is replete with a wide expressive range and technical challenges, not to mention the fact that once all of the musicians have had their say, a musical structure is constructed that defies logic, convention and other well-worn stylistic hooks. So monumental is the music’s cachet. Mr Bertrami’s “Last Summer in Rio” and the wistful finale – “The House I Lived In” [together with its “Prelude” – as a finale, no less] is typical of the brooding, tumbling groove that Azymuth created for itself – a sound so unique among [any] other musicians from the 1970’s onward, is yet to be imitated, copied or otherwise reproduced by Brasilian artists other than Azymuth.

YouTube Playlist

Tracks – Side A – 1: Estreito de Taruma; 2: What Price Samba [Quanta Vale um Samba]; 3: Country Road [Chão de Terra]; 4: May I Have This Dance? [Concede me Esto Dança?]. Side B – 1: Nothing Will Be As It Was [Nada Sera Como Antes]; 2: Last Summer in Rio; 3: The House I Lived In [A Casa em Que Vivi]; Prelude

Musicians – José Roberto Bertrami: organ [Side A 1, 4; Side B 1-3], keyboards [Side A 2, 4; Side B 1, 2], vocoder [Side A 3, 4], vocal [Side A 2] and percussion [Side A 1, 4; Side B 1]; Alex Malherios: electric bass [Side A 1, 4; Side B 2], fretless bass [Side A 2, 3; Side B 2]; bass guitar [Side A 4], and acoustic guitar [Side A 3]; Ivan Mamão Conti: drums [Side A 1, 2, 4; Side B 1, 2] and percussion [Side A 1, 3]; Special Guests – Helio Delmirio:  electric guitar [Aide A 1; Side B 2]; Aleuda: percussion [Side A 3, 4; Side B 1]; Dotô: repique [Side A 2]; Cidinho: percussion [Side B 2]

Released – 1982
Remastered and Released (vinyl) – 2022
Label – Milestone [1982]
Jazz Dispensary – [2022]
Runtime – Side A 19:21 Side B 21:43  

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