Greg Duncan – Chicago, Barcelona Connections – New Origins 001, 62:10 ****:
(Greg Duncan – trumpet, flugelhorn, producer, palmas; Corbin Andrick – alto and tenor saxophone; Stuart Mindeman – piano, Fender Rhodes; Jon Deitemyer – drums, percussion; Patrick Mulcahy – acoustic and electric bass; Javier Saume – cajón; Patricia Ortega – vocals, palmas (tracks 3, 5)
On the aptly-titled Chicago, Barcelona Connections, Chicago trumpeter/flugelhorn player Greg Duncan brings a swinging, straightforward, horn-based approach to a genre which most listeners may have some limited knowledge of: flamenco jazz. Jazz fans probably lump anything similar to flamenco into the Latin jazz bucket, but the music is different than Latin jazz, due to the distinct rhythmic patterns and melodies from Spain (specifically Andalusia, in southern Spain), which is the birthplace of flamenco music in general. In recent years, traditional flamenco has become popular all over the world and is taught in many countries: there are more academies in Japan, for example, than in Spain. In the jazz community, Chick Corea and Jerry Gonzalez have mixed flamenco jazz into their compositions. But Duncan is more definite in his method: he presents his flamenco jazz with both a technical and a cultural viewpoint closer to authentic flamenco music.
The nine tracks (including four Duncan originals) are arranged to follow some of the common flamenco types, such as rumba, tango, bulerías and so on. These different but related modes provide abundant rhythmic and melodic foundations to the material. Despite the need for professional musicians who understand flamenco jazz nuances, Duncan did not travel far to find sympathetic artists: he uses his working quintet, plus two musicians Duncan knows via the Chicago music scene: vocalist Patricia Ortega (who sings on two tunes) and cajón player Javier Saume (for those not familiar with the cajón, it is an extensively used, box-shaped percussion instrument).
The most widely recognizable piece is no doubt Nat Simon and Buddy Bernier’s “Poinciana,” the 1936 hit which has become a standard: it was recorded by Johnny Mathis and Vic Damone and was a staple for Ahmad Jamal (it was a focal point of his 1958 release, At the Pershing: But Not for Me, and subsequently became the title track of a 1963 Jamal album). Here, Duncan and his band perform the cut in the tanguillos style, done in a lively 6/8 rhythm. While the rhythm section (Saume, bassist Patrick Mulcahy and drummer Jon Deitemyer) spin out an animated beat, Duncan, saxophonist Corbin Andrick and pianist Stuart Mindeman have fun with the melody, each presenting warm solos. Another upbeat rendition is Duncan’s interpretation of Paco de Lucia’s “La Tumbona,” which features a spirited arrangement by noted flamenco/Latin jazz pianist Chano Domínguez and is the first of two songs highlighted by Ortega’s bright vocals, sung in Spanish. However, the majority of this tune is instrumental, with strong improvisations from Duncan and Andrick. Ortega has a more concentrated spotlight on the balmy “Correveidile,” (also titled “Run and Go Tell”), initially done by Barcelona’s flamenco fusion ensemble Ojos de Brujo. Duncan does not fundamentally alter the song, but does give room for more jazz flourishes, with horns taking the place of the guitar parts found on the original version.
Duncan’s work complements the overall feel and mood which runs through Chicago, Barcelona Connections. His “Procedencia” employs soleá por bulerias, meaning he blends two styles together: the tune moves lithely along with the polyrhythmic soleá mode and then the band also limberly shifts to the bulerias mode, which has a faster tempo: Mulcahy is a standout on his acoustic bass solo, and Duncan and Andrick’s twinned horns are also memorable. The clear-cut bop number “Straighten Up” utilizes the popular tango style: it is lyrically resolute and also showcases the group’s facility to switch things up as needed. Duncan’s trumpet solo has a demonstrative demeanor and rides nicely atop the piano, bass and drums, and when Mindeman steps to the fore he supplies a Jamal-esque tone. There is a modernist quality to the nearly nine-minute, mid-tempo “Reality versus Myth,” due to Mindeman’s understated Fender Rhodes, which offers a slight fusion texture. Several band members solo and the interplay among the musicians prove their communication is spot-on. Album closer “Spanish Life” is a casually swinging ballad which brings the proceedings to a satisfying, late-night conclusion. Hopefully, Duncan can record further flamenco jazz projects, or other musicians can appreciate Duncan’s intentions and create comparable undertakings.
TrackList: De Camino; Procedencia; La Tumbona; Poinciana; Correveidile/Run and Go Tell; Straighten Up; Reality versus Myth; Romance Anonimo; Spanish Life.
This is a delightful holiday collection.