Helio Alves – Música – Jazz Legacy Productions 1001010, 58:29 ****:
(Helio Alves – piano; Rueben Rogers – bass; Antonio Sanchez – drums; Claudio Roditi – trumpet (track 1), flugelhorn (track 7); Romero Lubambo – guitar (tracks 5 & 9))
Listening to Brazilian-born pianist Helio Alves’ fourth album as a leader, Música, it is hard to imagine he was not initially interested in Latin jazz nor the Brazilian music that surrounded him where he grew up. Originally Alves studied classical music but a Chick Corea/Gary Burton concert changed his life and started him on the path to his current career. Classical music’s loss is a tangible gain for the jazz community.
The nine-track, hour-long Música commences with Dom Salvador’s “Gafieira,” a relatively short but spunky piece that showcases the formidable workmanship of the core trio – Alves, bassist Rueben Rogers and drummer Antonio Sanchez – and also the trumpet of Alves’ long-time friend Claudio Roditi, who guests on this and one other tune. Only slightly slower is Moacir Santos’ “Kathy,” which heats up gradually. Alves opens in a moderately introspective mood but quickens increasingly to intricate solo statements. Meanwhile, Sanchez contributes rhythmic multiplicity that brings various percussive accents to the piece’s last half.
Alves provides two originals. First is the ballad, “Sombra,” marked by some of the most melodic keyboard work on the record, together with Rogers’ well-organized and shifting bass lines that in turn are pushed along by Sanchez’s swinging drums. The cut traverses from a lyrical quietude to a faster clip and then back to a relaxed cadence. Alves’ second composition is “Tribute to Charlie 2,” dedicated to Alves’ mentor, fellow pianist and educator Charlie Banacos who passed away in late 2009 five months before this recording was made. This also has a reverberating inclination: the trio gracefully advances from relaxed sections to more rapid moments, keeping the flow constantly evolving.
Wayne Shorter fans should check out the threesome’s rendition of “Black Nile,” an expressive translation that moves along at express velocity. This is another keen example of collaborative communication: Alves, Rogers and Sanchez are so integrated as a unit that it proves how authoritative the piano/bass/drums configuration can be with the right players. Another illustrious cover is a lightly Latinized version of Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder’s “Chan’s Song,” from the Round Midnight soundtrack. The movie music is on its way to becoming a standard, with previous renderings by Eliane Elias, Bobby Hutcherson, Michael Brecker and others. Alves adds some descriptive improvisations and guest Romero Lubambo slips in a sunny, Earl Klugh-esque acoustic guitar solo near the conclusion. Lubambo is also heard to mannerly effect on Dori Caymmi’s gentle “Flor Das Estradas” which features a duet segment with Alves that is absolute poetic radiance.
Roditi is spotlighted again – this time on flugelhorn – on his own “Adeus Alf,” which makes its debut here. The arrangement has an effortless but not marginal approach: while the number has a welcoming style there is an underlying tenacity, like a friendly but firm handshake.
Producer John Lee once again reveals that he is a perfect behind-the-boards partner: the audio clarity is precise, meticulous and scrupulously attuned to every facet. His care and attention to detail is diligently illustrated throughout, from deep bass to the highest keyboard notes.
4. Black Nile
5. Flor Das Estradas
6. Música Das Nuvens E Do Chão
7. Adeus Alf
8. Tribute to Charlie 2
9. Chan’s Song
— Doug Simpson