Sunday, February 16, 2014

Review: Seattle Women in Jazz - Latin Jazz Night

Last Thursday night the Seattle Women In Jazz festival kicked off at the Columbia City Theater with a special presentation focusing on Latin Jazz styles. The festival is the brainchild of promoter/producer Jessica Davis working closely with her assistant Director Kendra Aguilar and a small but tremendously hard-working staff. This is the second year of the festival, and if opening night was any indicator, the Seattle Women in Jazz Festival could be become a mainstay of the Seattle music festival scene if Ms Davis and crew continue on next year and beyond. The show was emceed by KPLU's Robin Lloyd, herself of course another hard-working woman making an impact on the Seattle Jazz scene though her work with the well-established jazz-advocating Tacoma-based radio station.

Anyway, on to the music: The actual Latin jazz show was warmed up in the front bar with Jazz/R&B singer Tena Duberry singing faves from that genre. I have to say that Tena is one of Seattle's hidden gems of a performer. She migrated for some years to Washington DC where she did quite well, even performing in venues such as the Kennedy Center there. Back in Seattle, she has been having an unfortunate battle with some health issues, but she informed me that her doctors expect her to be able to return to a more vigorous performance schedule by the summer. That's good news for us, because she is certainly a strong talent to add to the scene here. Memorable for me were the way she brought down the house with very deep and soulful renditions of the the Roberta Flack song "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and her final song of the night, Oleta Adam's "Get Here If You Can". But it wasn't just power ballads in her repertoire that moved people. She also got us all up and going with party songs such as Patti LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade". I was delighted to find that I had already seen a great show even before the main event began.

Moving into the theater itself we were greeted by The Entremundos Band fronted by Brazilian songstress Adriana Giordano. Adriana, originally of Sao Paulo, Brazil, took Seattle by surprise about 2 years ago when she left her "day job" and decided to go for it as a singer. Originally performing mostly for the Brazilian ex-pat community here, with the support of pianists such as Jovino Santos Neto and Eric Verlinde, she was soon gigging all over town to the entire jazz/world music community in venues such as Tulas and the Royal Room.

But Adriana and crew scored their first big goal by deciding to host a jam session every Monday night. Originally booked as a world music jam session, it quickly outgrew any genre-labeling, and became one of Seattle' most successful jam sessions where you could hear everything from salsa jazz and bossa nova to James Brown, jazz standards, and down-home blues. They renamed the session "Entremundos", and Entremundos has outlasted three venues so far and is now filling up the Capitol Cider's music room every Monday. Hey, everybody, Adriana is on the map of Seattle!

Besides Adriana, the Entremundos band consists of virtuoso pianist Eric Verlinde, top-tier Brazilian drum stylist Jeff Busch, local percussion powerhouse Ernesto Pediangco, and tonight were we seeing bassist Tim Carey and additional percussionist Edson Otero, sitting in while waiting to perform next with Clave Gringa.

Dance Instructor Aileen Panke of Bahia in Motion was there to guide us through several different samba dance moves, and this gave the dancers among the audience a nice boost to the performance as well.

From beginning to end, they rocked the house. They do a very high energy rendition of the famous samba jazz song "Berimbau" (named after the aboriginal Brazilian instrument fashioned from a bow-and-arrow). That was their second song and from that point on, the house was theirs. There was not a wink link in the lot, and all instrumentalists wowed us with numerous outstanding solo spots as the show progressed. Of course they were brought back for an encore, and in what has become a signature of the band's performance style, they add humor to the show by finding old standard songs that they pull off the cuff and wrap their shows with a great light touch at the end. This time, it was a rendition of "Dream A Little Dream of Me", special for Valentines day, and featuring a chorus of Adriana on the kazoo, which, along with the Brazilian nose-whistle, has become a favorite toy she whips out at opportune moments during the shows.

The third and final show of the evening was pianist Ann Reynolds' Cuban Jazz group, called Clave Gringa, an obvious self-reference highlighting the fact that, yes, there are great women instrumentalists in Afro-Cuban music, a genre that has many famous women singers, but not many famous women instrumentalists. Ann plans on changing that, obviously. In her second appearance at the Seattle Women in Jazz Festival, she proved, once again, that she has the chops and the compositional and arranging expertise to accomplish that goal.

Ann was also accompanied by a strong compliment of musicians: trumpeter Daniel Barry and trombonist Naomi Siegal played several outstanding solos during the set, as well as working together on Ann's lovely horn arrangements for the songs. Edson Otero worked together with Ernesto Pediangco (double-hitting for the show). Two top-tier latin percussionists who seemed quite at home working together, they played musical percussion chairs, trading off on congas, timbales, bongos, and the numerous bells and shakers. Ben Verdier held down the bass chair with lines that not only rooted the Afro-Cuban grooves, but were also melodic and inventive in their own right. And percussionist Susan Mackenzie sat in with the group adding touches on maracas, shakers, and cowbell.

Ann travels regularly to Cuba to make sure she stays in touch with the authentic Cuban tradition, as well as keeping up with what's new on the scene there. This is reflected in her music which stays solidly inside the Afro-Cuban framework even in her original pieces. As a Caucasian Seattleite, it would be easy for Ann to mix it up as a fusion, but it was refreshing that she did not do that. She kept the music honest and real, bringing home the point that as the "Clave Gringa" herself, she can meet even the best traditionalists on their own turf. The set was a joy to listen to.

Memorable for me was a gorgeous bolero called "Working Through" written and arranged by Ann. In a genre known for it's high-energy dance numbers, Ann reminded us that Cuban Jazz has a beautiful slow and romantic side expressed through the bolero songform. Ann also brought home the point with this song that a real master of the piano does not need to play loud or fast to move an audience. Daniel's trumpet and Naomi's trombone solos added another layer of rich romanticism to the number.

They wrapped it up with "Casi Cubano," the title a reference to a comment that apparently many of the musicians in Cuba make - that she feels like a Cuban to them, even though she doesn't look like one. Again, a testament to the fact that she is meeting the Cuban musicians on their own turf, and they are enjoying making music with her. Memorable in this song was an outstanding timbales solo by Edson.

And that, my friends is a wrap. I had a VERY enjoyable evening of music in which every single performer shined. Viva la Seattle Women In Jazz Festival! May you be with us for many years to come!

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