Carmen Sandim – Play Doh – Ropeadope

by | Jan 2, 2021 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Carmen Sandim – Play Doh – [TrackList follows] – Ropeadope RAD-521, 64:21 [10/25/19] ****:

Pianist and composer Carmen Sandim’s sophomore album—the 64-minute, nine-tune Play Doh—is a showcase for the Brazil native’s compositional talent as well as an homage to friends, family and personal and cultural touchstones from Brazil and Boulder, CO, her adopted hometown. Many pieces reflect her background and experiences in Brazil but there are also inspirations from American jazz, some slices related to pop or rock music, and other influences. Sandim created a mid-sized ensemble to navigate through her nine melodic originals. In the producer chair once again is Sandim’s mentor and friend, Art Lande, the longtime Colorado-based jazz keyboardist who teaches at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Kneebody’s trumpeter Shane Endsley guests on three tracks. Bruce Williamson (an alum of Lande’s Rubisa Patrol) plays various instruments including clarinet and flute. Trombonist Alex Heitlinger (a frequent Lande collaborator) is heard on three cuts. Guitarist Khabu Doug Young (also a Lande musical associate) is featured on most of the material. Another Lande colleague, drummer Dru Heller, performs on all pieces. Bassist Bill McCrossen is also on all the compositions (credits include David “Fathead” Newman, Jimmy Heath, Dave Valentin and more). Boulder acoustic guitarist Bill Kopper (who has extensive Brazilian music expertise) guests on two tunes. And percussionist Raul Rossiter guests on one cut. 

Several pieces honor Sandim’s family and friends. The opening septet tune, “Aruru, Juju” (Spanish: “Go to sleep, Juju”) was composed for her young son. The suitably lighthearted track conjures Sandim’s demanding creative process. “Starting in June of 2017,” she recollects, “I scheduled two nights a week where I didn’t sleep at all. Every Tuesday and Friday I would stay up all night composing. I wasn’t sleeping that much anyway, but I was amazed that by choosing to stay awake, I’d actually feel fine the next day. Happy and inspired, in fact.” One can imagine Sandim working on this bubbly, slightly Brazilian-hued tune after tucking her child into bed. Sandim describes the lyrical “Aura-Celia” and sublime “Isaura” as ‘female legacy songs.’ The redolent “Aura-Celia” is a tribute to Sandim’s mother. The arrangement combines jazz with light classical hints. McCrossen furnishes a glowing bass improvisation while Sandim contributes a beautiful chordal solo, followed by Young’s warm, electric guitar spotlight. The poetic ballad “Isaura” is dedicated to Sandim’s grandmother. Highlights include Williamson’s whispery clarinet, Kopper’s sweet acoustic guitar flourishes and Sandim’s rhythmic lines. The abundantly detailed title track owes its instigation to a short theme Sandim’s children, Juju and Amelie, made and sang during playtime. The idea for the springy “Waiting for Art” occurred one day when Sandim was an hour early for a lesson with Lande.  Sandim says Lande is “a true artist of spirit, a real free soul.” The expressive quartet piece is notable for Young’s dynamic guitar as well as the active and somewhat abstract rhythmic undertow. The closing cut, the imaginative and lively “Free Wilbie”—penned as a response to Sandim’s friendly pet dog—also has a keen Brazilian suggestion accented by Kopper’s guitar lines, Rossiter’s traditional percussive instruments (pandeiro, surdo and tamborim), Young’s cavaquinho (a small Portuguese string instrument) and Williamson’s airy flute.

Two pieces were impelled by natural surroundings. The darkly-brooding “Undergrowth” utilizes dimmer notes to echo the shadows and secretive life where the sun is absent or muted. Young’s guitar in particular adds to the spookier characteristic, with wah-wah and other effects which have Frank Zappa-esque attributes. The handsome “Hear the Trees” is the complete opposite. This has an open-hearted arrangement complemented by Kopper’s attractive guitar, Sandim’s animated piano and McCrossen’s plucky bass. Those who buy Play Doh as a digital download will get two bonuses with guest vocalist Elena Camerin. “Salvation” employs the northeastern Brazilian musical style baião which is prompted on folkloric figures who fought against oppressive people. The multi-rhythmic “Eddie and Martha” is Sandim’s first romantic love song and has many melodic changes, from samba to waltz-time to baião. Sandim’s Play Doh may not necessarily have an immediate impact. This is the kind of jazz where the nuances, the details, the special moments are best experienced over time, with multiple listening. 

Performing Artists:
Carmen Sandim – Piano, Arranger, with
Shane Endsley – trumpet (tracks 1, 5, 8); Bruce Williamson – reeds (tracks 1, 5, 8), clarinet (track 4), flute (track 9); Alex Heitlinger – trombone (tracks 1, 5, 8); Khabu Doug Young – guitar (tracks 1-6, 8-9), cavaquinho (track 9); Bill McCrossen – bass; Dru Heller – drums; Art Lande – producer; Bill Kopper – acoustic guitar (tracks 7, 9); Raul Rossiter – pandeiro, surdo and tamborim (track 9)

Aruru, Juju
Me Gusta La Angustia
Waiting for Art
Hear the Trees
Play Doh
Free Wilbie

—Doug Simpson

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