Monday, March 2, 2015

Steve Brown & Guillermo Bazzola

Una Pequeña Alegría
Brown Cats Productions (BC9508)

Guillermo Bazzola, Steve Brown (g).

Recorded on April 8, 2013. TT: 58:36

This record, "A Little Joy", is the latest by Steve Brown and Guillermo Bazzola, an unlikely duo of pares inter pares (the notes don't state who plays what) for its great gaps in age — rare but irrelevant — and geography: Brown is based in Ithaca, NY, whereas Bazzola lives in Madrid, Spain. Perhaps for this reason this was recorded as in olden times, in one day.

The guitar duo has a long tradition in jazz, but it's a tricky format. There's the sameness in sound, even with imaginative arrangements, and the unavoidable technical pyrotechnics. In this instance, the first notes here are not really promising: both guitars are close in timbre, a rather conventional clean jazz sound, and the tune is a bossa nova, a trap that can be either beautiful or terribly inconsequential.

Although pretty and with a certain weight, like many first tunes at live gigs, the opening "Caminhos Cruzados" (a Jobim song) works well but it's not representative of this record; the other bossa, "Esencia" (by Spanish pianist Alberto Conde) is played with more verve. It is with the second track, "Los Mareados" ("The Dizzy Ones"), where Brown and Bazzola do get down to business. This is an old tango brought to the session by Argentinian Bazzola, and its theme is performed with sensitivity and elegance. This a highlight of the record together with the other tango of the session, "Nada" ("Nothing"), whose beautiful melody is framed by the minute rhythmic nuances, the way the comping guitar falls ever so slightly behind the beat.

With no bass or drums, the rhythm becomes more subtle than usual, bringing forward the harmonies and, especially, the melodies. There are no shocking noises or swooping changes in dynamics. Some may find some "samey-ness" in the arrangements (the intros to "Double Dedication" and "Nada"), but the end result is far from repetitive.

The repertoire helps to keep it interesting: two bossas, two tangos, a bit of Bazzola's inclination towards more contemporary jazz, with his admired Kenny Wheeler's "The Jigsaw", and his own "Una Pequeña Alegría", "A Little Joy", which is more lively than happy, perhaps an oblique reflection on Wheeler's penchant for melancholy. From his end, Brown has brought over his bop sensitivity, with "Ventilation" (Bird's "Confirmation" with a different bridge), and his take on "The Lick", which he has blown up to a whole 32-bar tune. The idea stems from compilations on YouTube of a number of musicians and pieces where this short phrase appears, its universality being proved here by its reappearance in two other tracks, "Nada" and "Esencia".

The standard songbook gets it share of tunes, with a longish take on Ellington's "Isfahan", the old warhorse "All the Things You Are", the fastest tempo in the album, and a delicate reading of just the melody – a wise choice – of "Old Folks".

Una Pequeña Alegría is an unpretentious little album. It's also a work of great beauty and tenderness.

(Available on cdbaby, Spotify, and iTunes)



"All the Things You Are"

"The Lick"

No comments: