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Essential Albums

Paquito D’Rivera and The United Nation Orchestra: A Night in Englewood

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Paquito D'Rivera and The United Nation Orchestra: A Night in Englewood

This album was made at the time after Paquito D’Rivera had inherited what was left of Dizzy Gillespie’s seminal United Nation Orchestra and just before the alto saxophonist and clarinetist created his own (smaller) ensemble which still exists today albeit with a few new personnel, although the foundations of the “new” ensemble that has become Mr D’Rivera’s calling-card are already here – including the inimitable trumpeter Diego Urcola and bassist Oscar Stagnaro. Also perceptible is, interestingly, a very unique sound of music – a volcanic mix of Jazz bubbling and boiling in a bed of Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Brasilian music and dance forms. All of these viscerally energetic rhythmic forms swirling around the high and lonesome wail of Mr D’Rivera’s alto saxophone, and often aglow when he puts away the alto horn and replaces it with his burnished burgundy clarinet.

Essential Albums Revisited

Of course, all of this music is anything but what you might get accustomed to hearing from a big band. Dizzy’s great orchestra was not simply a gathering of the finest virtuosos from various corners of North and South America, but the great beboppper had created a musical palimpsest that grew out of the signature melodic, harmonic and rhythmic concept that he helped fashion and refine with his star and alter ego, Charlie Parker. The United Nation Orchestra drew members from various musical cultures with a concomitant vision that had everything to do with being kindred spirits with one goal – and that was to advance the gospel of music. In doing so, many different cultural idioms came together as they had in the music of its founder, many years before the formation of the group.

What we hear in this early (or late – depending on which period in its chronology you regard this music) date advances Dizzy’s legacy, but clearly puts Mr D’Rivera’s singular musical stamp on the big and vociferous sound of the ensemble. One Night in Englewood also brings back charter members of the group – onetime musical director and trombonist Slide Hampton and trumpeter Claudio Roditi, who are also joined by noted bandoneonist Raúl Juarena and the late, great mallet percussionist Dave Samuels as well. And there is, of course, the towering presence of the great Mario Rivera, with the raw power of his tenor saxophone. The sound of this ensemble befits its size. It is elegantly loud and forthright, and there is never a predictable or dull moment in the proceedings as the repertoire is run through with the precision of a large and well-oiled mechanism.

Paquito D’Rivera leads – as usual – from the front with fiery soli ornamented by vaunted glissandos and blinding runs that tumble from his alto saxophone (and clarinet) in breezy cascades. There is not a single corner of the musical continent that is not visited – from Brasil and Argentina to the far-flung islands where Afro-Caribbean music bubbles and boils over. But as ever, Mr D’Rivera’s characterisation of the artistic topography is singularly driven. The result is even forms that were re-invented by others become polished gems with Mr D’Rivera’s unique stamp on them. “Blues for Astor” is one such piece as is “Snow Samba”. (Knowing just how puckish a bon vivant Mr D’Rivera is, he probably had a story for every song that was played on A Night in Englewood and it’s a pity that we don’t get to hear those on this disc. Still this recording that ends with a brilliant version of one of Mr D’Rivera’s greatest and most tender tunes – “To Brenda with Love” – is a masterpiece and that too, one with unique historical value.

Track list – 1: Snow Samba; 2: Alma Llanera; 3: I Remember Diz; 4: Blues For Astor; 5: Modo Cubano; 6: La Puerta; 7: Bonitinha; 8: Conga Pa Paquito; 9: To Brenda With Love

Personnel – Paquito D’Rivera: alto saxophone and clarinet; Byron Stripling: trumpet; Mike Ponella: trumpet and flugelhorn; Diego Urcola: trumpet and flugelhorn; Conrad Herwig: trombone; William Cepeda: tenor and bass trombones; Marshall McDonald: alto saxophone; Andrés Bolarsky: tenor saxophone; Steve Sacks: tenor saxophone; Mario Rivera: tenor saxophone and flute; Romero Lubambo: guitar; Mike Orta: piano; Carlos Franzetti: piano; Oscar Stagnaro: electric bass; Adam Cruz: drums; Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums; Bobby Sanábria: percussion; With Guests – Slide Hampton: trombone; Claudio Roditi: trumpet; Dave Samuels: marimba and vibraphone; Raúl Juarena: bandoneon

Released – 1994
Label – Messidor (158292)
Runtime – 52:39

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.

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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.

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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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