New World Beat – After Carnival – Creative Digital Media CDM1001, 72:14 ***1/2:
(Richard Sprince – vibraphone, producer, mixer; Matt Vashlishan – soprano & alto saxophone, EWI sax synthesizer; Tom Lippincott – 8-string guitar; Tony Cruz and Terezinha Valois – vocals; Cezar Santana – nylon string guitar; Diogo Oliviera Brown – fretless bass; Goran Rista – drums; Dwili Dewongy – percussion; Jorge Pardo – flute (track 6); Gary Damanti – guitar (track 3); Alejandro Pino-Sprince – tag vocal (track 7))
Miami-based vibraphonist Richard Sprince has shared stages with an assortment of Latin jazz artists and has performed salsa, African and Brazilian music. He brings those influences to the foreground via a Latin-fusion stance on After Carnival, the debut of his band, New World Beat. The 72-minute, 11-track outing has a contemporary feel which melds a Spyro Gyra-ish melodicism and a Pat Metheny-esque accessibility within a deceptively smooth framework which has veiled musical depths.
Sprince is accompanied by soprano/alto saxophonist Matt Vashlishan (an up-and-coming horn man who also uses a EWI sax synth and is a Dave Liebman protégé); electric guitarist Tom Lippincott (who leads a trio) and nylon string guitarist Cezar Santana; bassist Diogo Oliviera Brown; drummer Goran Rista; and percussionist Dwili Dewongy. There are also two harmony vocalists; and three guests who are spread among three tunes.
Metheny’s impact can be discerned on several cuts. Opener “Beyond the Clouds” is an up-tempo number with a lyrical determination. While Vashlishan’s flavorful soprano and the understated percussive coloring are suggestive of early Spyro Gyra, the stimulated instrumentation and Tony Cruz and Terezinha Valois’s ethereal harmony vocals echo the straightforward simplicity of Metheny’s Latin-tinged material. “The Dance Has Just Begun” has a sprightly refrain which utilizes an Afro-Brazilian Afoxé rhythm. The cut is reminiscent of Metheny’s late ‘80s work (think Still Life (Talking)), with fine contributions from Vashlishan (again on soprano sax) and guest guitarist Gary Damanti. The melody gets support from the wordless harmonies (another Metheny hallmark) and Dewongy’s astute percussion, similar to Pat Metheny Group regular Naná Vasconcelos. Metheny’s inspiration is also obvious on two Metheny covers. First up is a decelerated translation of “Last Train Home,” where Vashlishan switches to EWI sax synth, which at times evokes Metheny’s synth guitar sound. The piece eventually drifts into a slow samba where harmony vocals again double the melody and Sprince supplies a memorable solo. Re-doing such a well-known title firmly identified with another artist could have been an unfortunate choice, but New World Beat provides an open and spacious foundation which benefits the fresh rendition: although the a cappella conclusion by Sprince’s son does not offer anything special. The album closes with a dynamic arrangement of Metheny’s solo overdubbed guitar showcase “Sueño con México.” While Metheny’s thoughtful version has a sparseness, New World Beat adapts an elevated groove which rises to a 12/8 shuffle and dramatically ebbs, highlighted by Brown’s graceful bass, Vashlishan’s warm alto sax (which has a splash of David Sanborn) and percussive elements which include talking drums, bird whistles, bell and shakers.
A satisfying but not overriding Brazilian atmosphere seeps into other tunes. The title track features a samba-funk rhythm redolent of the waning energy levels which follow the Carnival spectacle. There is improvised interaction between the vibes and Lippincott’s sometimes biting guitar, while Vashlishan furnishes extended tones and polytonalities which recall his mentor, Liebman. On the flip side is “Fantasia de Carnival,” about the buildup to Carnival. A relatively calm but uninhibited introduction leads to a fast-clipped bossa nova/rock melody where alto sax and Santana’s nylon string guitar effectively trade lines. The free-ranging ending reiterates the intro to deliver a loose-limbed finish. The appropriately termed “Partido Alto” employs the particular rhythm of the same name, but with a modern sensibility emphasized by Lippincott’s lengthy solo, which fuses Metheny and Jeff Baxter (of Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers), as well as more vibes/sax exchanges. “Song for Brazil” is a bolero-tinted ballad with a somewhat shadowy harmony and a wistful waltz tempo. The piece is enhanced by guest flutist Jorge Pardo (a noted sideman for Chick Corea and Paco de Lucia), who blends in his distinctive flamenco flourishes. At first listen, New World Beat’s inaugural album has an audience-friendly, easy mannerism and seems unchallenging, but dig below the surface and listeners will discover expressive textures and grooves/rhythms which prove more interesting each time they are heard. Five full tracks from New World Beat’s After Carnival can be streamed in their entirety here.
Beyond the Clouds; On My Way; The Dance Has Just Begun; After Carnival; Partido Alto; Song for Brazil; Last Train Home; Adios, Buenos Aires; Fantasia de Carnival; It’s not Far; Sueño con México.
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