Lori Bell – The Music of Djavan – Resonance Records, RCD-1007, 68:20 ****:
(Lori Bell – C flute, alto flute, arranger; Tamir Hendelman – piano, arranger; Kuno Schmid – orchestral arranger (3, 7, 11); David Enos – upright and electric bass; Enzo Todesco – drums; Anna Gazolla – percussion, vocals (10), Angelo Metz – guitar (11))
With the release of Lori Bell’s new effort, The Music of Djavan, listeners get the chance to hear two artists deserving of wider recognition. First there is Bell, a technically brilliant flute player who unfortunately has fallen under the radar of most jazz fans. Then there’s the melodically and harmonically rich music of Brazilian songwriter and pop star Djavan (pronounced zha-von). Although his music has been recorded by folks such as Al Jarreau and Carmen McRae, his profile has remained lower than likeminded Latin Americans like Luis Bonfa or Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Bell is no stranger to Brazilian styles, attested to by her 1989 sophomore album, Take Me To Brazil. But Resonance founder George Klabin was integral in connecting Bell with Djavan’s work, and the result is a comprehensive and grooving Latin jazz offering that meets two of Klabin’s goals: putting a spotlight on Djavan’s compositions and affording an opportunity to discover Bell.
Bell’s meticulous undertaking in arranging, reworking and, in some cases, supplementing minor touches to Djavan’s songs pays off. Bell and the hand-picked trio used specifically for these proceedings start things off right with the multifaceted “Jogral,” a mid-tempo opener highlighting Bell’s assertive flute, Tamir Hendelman’s nimble piano and the accomplished rhythm section of drummer Enzo Todesco and bassist David Enos. From the get-go, its apparent Bell takes no back seat to other instrumentalists: she has a fertile tone and builds swirling lines that sometimes have the expressive stance of a sax. This is a far cry from the lean range demonstrated by pop crossover flutists like Dave Valentin or Hubert Laws.
Hendelman, who has worked in the Jeff Hamilton Trio and the Clayton-Hamilton Band, shines throughout. He takes a swinging solo during the jubilant “Serrado,” which is also a notable presentation for Bell, who layers a trio of C and alto flutes, creating a savvy and steady articulation. Hendelman is also engaging during the lyrical ballad “Nobreza (Nobility),” where he and Bell trade lines like a couple dancing and singing together at the same time, while Kuno Schmid’s strings arrangement adds a slightly sentimental but empathic backdrop. Schmid’s strings accompaniment also aids and abets the buoyant “Alibi,” a subtle tune suffused with emotional expression and which acts as a choice vehicle for Bell’s moist, sympathetic flute playing and Hendelman’s keyboard coloring.
One of Djavan’s most well-known hits is “Capim,” covered by many groups including The Manhattan Transfer. While Bell’s interpretation is mostly instrumental, percussionist Anna Gazolla contributes a short, earthy Spanish-language vocal that accentuates the piece’s inherent resonant quality.
Special mention goes to producer George Klabin. First, his attentive song selection helps make The Music of Djavan a consistent but wide-ranging artistic affair. Not only do the eleven tracks reflect Djavan’s diverse composing skills, but they give Bell and the other musicians the freedom to fully magnify their myriad musical voices, from funky (“Canto Da Lyra”) to reverent (Chuck Mangione-esque closer “Faltando Um Pedaço”). Secondly but no less importantly, Klabin furnishes a warm, full digital sound that reproduces equally both Bell’s high flute frequencies and Enos’s low bass sonority.
2 A Ilha (The Island)
5 Liberdade (Libery)
6 Luz (Light)
7 Nobreza (Nobility)
9 Canto Da Lyra (Song of the Lyre)
11 Faltando Um Pedaço (Missing a Piece)
— Doug Simpson