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Late last year as I was reading Jazz Times I spotted an article about Bob Belden’s new ‘Miles Espanol’ project.  I like Bob Belden’s work but my first thoughts were, why mess with perfection?  I need not have worried because he has created something quite fresh and original; using ‘Sketches of Spain’ as a springboard into the now.

Like many Jazz listeners I had been deeply immersed in Miles Prestige recordings and his seminal ‘Kind of Blue’.    Soon after that ‘Sketches of Spain’ came into my life and along with ‘The Maids of Cadiz’, ‘Flamenco Sketches’ and ‘Teo/Neo’; Miles (and Gil’s) Spanish tinged music was seldom off my turntable.  As a guitar fan I was already quite familiar with Rodrigo’s ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’ and Flamenco.

Miles Davis and Gil Evans took this wonderful material and reworked it in ways that only master musicians could.  This was visionary and a new type of jazz – perhaps a fore-runner of the ECM Jazz which a decade later would unselfconsciously  absorb the music of cultures far removed from the American heartland.   Miles later described this Flamenco music as a type of blues – the voice of a people’s struggle against oppression.   I had not realised it before writing this, but my fascination in recent years with Mediterranean Jazz (and particularly Sufi/Moorish/Italian/Spanish Jazz) probably began right there.

This was a mammoth project to take on, but Bob Belden has a track record of realising such crazy visions.  He also has serious pull with musicians and industry players.

First on board appears to have been Chick Corea and Jack DeJohnette soon followed.   After that things came together in an organic fashion – each artist seeming to recommend the next.  He had not initially planned to ask 33 musicians to participate, but that is how it ended up.

Bob Belden is a well-known horn player producer/arranger/composer.  On this double album he does not play his warm-toned tenor sax (only Timpani and Marimba on one track).   As arranger producer his presence is never-the-less over-arching; like a Gil Evans for our times.   While he has guided the 33 musicians firmly towards the realisation of his vision, he also appears to have known exactly when to loosen the reins.

The artists were flown into New York from a number of countries but mainly from Spain, North Africa and South America.   The American musicians are mostly Miles alumni – a who’s who of Jazz royalty.   Chick Corea (p), Jack DeJohnette (d), John Scofield (g), Sonny Fortune (f), Ron Carter (b), Vince Wilburn jnr (d).  Add into that heady mix; Tim Hagans (t), Gonzalo Rubalcaba (p) Eddie Gomez (b), Antonio Sanchez (d), Alex Acuna (d) (perc), Jerry Gonzalez (fh) (c) and more -(the full list of musicians is at the bottom of the post).

Of note is the well know Jazz-Flamenco pianist Chano Dominguez (p).   I first obtained an album of his in the nineties and he is very impressive.    Other notable Mediterranean musicians are Rabih Abou Khalil (oud), Edmar Castineda (harp), Nino Joseles (g), Lou Marini (fl)(bass flute), Jorge Pardo (f), Christina Pato (Spanish bagpipe).

My favourite small group tracks are; (1) ‘Trampolin’ (by Chic Corea) – Chic Corea (p),Jorge Pardo (f), Ron Carter (b) Antonio Sanchez (d).  This builds in intensity until the grove is rock solid and it swings hard without losing the complex polyrhythms.   Chick understands this music very well. (2) Spantango (by John Scofield).

Larger pieces; Saeta/Pan Piper (Gil Evans- traditional)

The concept is so big that the overall album lacks a little in cohesion, however the tracks range from very good to marvelous.

Full listing of musicians: Bob Belden, Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, Sonny Fortune, Eddie Gomez, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, John Scofield, Rabih Abou-Khalil, John Clark, Tim Hagans, Jerry Gonzalez, Adam Rudolph, Jorge Pardo, Alex Acuña, Carlos Benavent, John Benítez, Chick Corea, Sammy Figuerova, Scott Kinsey, Lou Marini, Michael Rabinowitz, John Riley, Antonio Sanchéz, Vince Wilburn J, Mike Williams, Chano Domínguez, Luisito Quintero, Charles Pillow, Edsel Gomez, Jaco Abel, Dominick Farinacci, Victor Prieto, Cristina Pato, Edmar Castaneda, Brahim Fribgame, Niño Joseles.

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