Edmar Castaneda and Gregoire Maret Go Mano A Mano, As Does Michel Camilo, in Take Five

Jun 2, 2019

Along with the latest by the Anat Fort Trio and Sam Newsome — and a 20-year-old stunner from Paul Bley, Gary Peacock and Paul Motian.

Michel Camilo, “Mano a Mano”

There’s usually an adversarial slant to the term “Mano a Mano,” with its connotation of hand-to-hand combat. But not if the hands belong to Michel Camilo, a Dominican-born pianist and composer with an irrepressible, exuberant style. Camilo first recorded a song by that name for a trio album in 2011. He revisited and enlarged the theme for a new album, Essence, releasing Friday on Resilience Music Alliance.

The album features a powerhouse big band that Camilo last convened a decade ago. The ranks of the band include the likes of saxophonist Ralph Bowen, trombonist Michael Dease and trumpeter Michael Philip Mossman — each of whom takes a hard-charging solo on “Mano a Mano,” premiering here.

Camilo’s solo arrives just over three minutes in, and it’s done within 40 seconds. But this is someone who knows how to make a powerful impression right away; his bluesy rat-a-tat and hammering octaves are the work of a seasoned demolitions expert. His rhythm team — Cuban percussionist Eliel Lazo and drummer Cliff Almond — take the next two solos, before the band comes roaring back in.

Edmar Castañeda and Grégoire Maret, “Santa Morena” (Featuring Béla Fleck)

The title of Harp Vs. Harp, an album due out on ACT Music on June 14, is another example of false confrontation. The harpists in this case are Edmar Castañeda, a virtuoso on the Andean harp, and Grégoire Maret, who holds the same stature on the French harp, aka harmonica. Their rapport on the album suggests a precise antithesis of oppositional energies; you’ll rarely find a more harmonious pairing.

For their version of “Santa Morena,” by the fastidious Brazilian composer Jacob do Bandolim, Maret and Castañeda call on a third musician — American banjo whiz Béla Fleck. There’s no sense of strain in this cultural convergence, on a song whose rhythm pulls toward the flamenco pulse of bulería. (Don’t miss the heat that Castañeda brings to the groove around the halfway mark, beginning at 2:40.)

Harp Vs. Harp will be released on ACT Music on June 14; preorder here.

Paul Bley / Gary Peacock / Paul Motian, “When Will The Blues Leave”

Pianist Paul Bley, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian first made an album together in the 1960s. They didn’t make another one as a trio until 1998, when they recorded Not Two, Not One, a marvel of collective intuition and unthinking wisdom. When Will the Blues Leave, just out on ECM, is a breathtaking document from the tour that followed, recorded in Switzerland in ’99. The title track — by Ornette Coleman, a touchstone for all involved — is a natural highlight.

“When Will the Blues Leave,” which made its debut on Something Else!!!! The Music of Ornette Coleman, was also a track on Paul Bley with Gary Peacock, that album from the ‘60s. (It was released on ECM in 1970.) The approach to the song here is both forward-tilt and wide open: at one point in the piano solo, just after the three-minute mark, bass and drums drop out so that Bley can draw his elaborations unencumbered. After about a minute, Peacock makes his peekaboo reentry, if only for a moment; Motian muscles in for the world’s briefest drum solo at 4:40. (It lasts no more than 12 seconds.) You can tell how deeply comfortable these masters feel, and how resistant they are to complacency.

When Will the Blues Leave is available on ECM; order here.

Anat Fort Trio, “The Limp”

The Bley/Peacock/Motian trio can be understood as a major influence on the current crop of piano trios, and one of the examples I’d point to is led by Israeli-born pianist Anat Fort, with Gary Wang on bass and Roland Schneider on drums. This long-running trio, which has recorded for ECM, recently released a fine album called Colour on Sunnyside Records. And one of the album’s most engaging pieces, “The Limp,” was just outfitted with a video by Tsofit Dori.

“The Limp” has a serpentine bass ostinato and a deceptively simple melody, suggesting a folk song. But Fort’s unpacking of the theme is precisely calibrated, at once delicate and determined. It’s a smart performance, and a good indication of what Colour is all about. The Anat Fort Trio will be on tour on the east coast in July, reaching Birdland on July 17.

Sam Newsome, “Urban Location”

The soprano saxophone is more than a primary instrument for Sam Newsome. It also suggests a pathway and a destination, a vehicle and a voice. If you’ve been following Newsome’s work, you should be aware of his extensive forays into solo soprano saxophone performance, memorably documented on albums like Monk Abstractions (2007), Blue Soliloquy (2009) and Sopranoville: Works for Prepared and Non-Prepared Soprano (2017). And so it goes with his new release, Chaos Theory: Song Cycles For Prepared Saxophone, which dropped today.

“Urban Location,” one of 15 new inventions on the album, typifies his approach here. Newsome builds layer upon layer of sound, utilizing the soprano not only as a solo instrument but also a percussive motor. (In his liner notes, Kurt Gottschalk explains some of the technical details: “Newsome has augmented his soprano with plastic tubes extending the expanse between neck and mouthpiece, elongating the waves emitting from the horn and deepening its range by two octaves or more.”) The track feels like an action-packed miniature, which is only fitting: as the album’s title implies, it belongs to a coherent whole.

Chaos Theory is available at Amazon and elsewhere.

Sam Newsome performs June 3 on the Bushwick Improvised Music Series (with guitarist Joe Morris and vocalist Charmaine Lee) and on June 9 at Red Shed Community Garden (with Charlie Waters & HornOcopia).