Latin Jazz Salute To Duke Ellington
Ramapo College of New Jersey, October 4, 2003:
I go up to my school, Ramapo College of New Jersey, to see The Oscar Feldman Ensemble with Paquito D’Rivera. They are appearing at the Sharp Theatre, in the Berrie Center, on the college campus. They are performing a Latin Jazz Salute to Duke Ellington. I have a great seat in front row center and the theatre appears to be sold out. I meet a knowledgeable and personable jazz musician (bassist & sax player), who is studying with Oscar Feldman. We form a nice friendship over the course of the show and he takes me backstage to meet all the musicians after the gig.
The Oscar Feldman Ensemble takes the stage at 8:08 P.M. The opening arrangement is, “Caravan.” The music starts out very differently with the drummer, Henry Cole, playing solo. He starts out with drumming rudiments and cleverly develops them into an enticing jazz tempo. He develops a reverse stick and snare routine, adds rim shots and tom-tom rolls, and then rhythmically builds until the ensemble joins in a lively ¾ time jazz groove. Soon one can recognize a very up-tempo “Caravan” emerging. There is a nice jazz tempo change that leads to a quite dynamic passage. Oscar Feldman takes an excellent alto sax solo, gliding effortlessly through the musical changes. The pianist, Alon Yavnai, takes a sleek and fluid solo with confident and well-articulated scale runs. The bassist, Howard Britz, provides a strong walking bass that fully complements the ensemble playing. The percussionist, Pernel Saturnino, is simmering hot as the drummer remains very inventive.
The second song is, “I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart.” This is a slower ¾ time with the bass notes predominately featured, leading the melody. This is a fantastic Latin interpretation of the Ellington standard. The bass takes a great solo with the percussionist accompanying creatively. Oscar takes an excellent alto solo. His sax is both cerebral and ethereal while soaring above the enticing embellishment of the melody. The band is very cohesive and maintains an excellent musical balance.
The next song is entitled, “Chelsea Breech.” This arrangement is soft, serene, restrained and reserved. The drummer uses mallets and then brushes on his drum kit for a subdued and sensitive attack. The bassist has excellent note choice and tonal balance. The alto plays sweet and low with well appointer flourishes. The piano solo is tasteful and delicate. Alon executes skillful melodic development through the interesting chord changes.
The next song, “Mrs. Tangoholic,” is an Oscar Feldman composition. This is a more contemporary arrangement with a strong 4/4 tempo. The drummer and percussionist work together closely, to inspire a strong rhythmic sense. Oscar takes a smokin’ alto solo, showcasing confident flourishes and smooth scale runs leading up to cleverly times crescendos. The piano solo is strong and assured, displaying creative and intriguing content. The bass solos again, complemented by succinct and supportive drumming and very confident conga accompaniment.
Paquito D’Rivera joins the ensemble on clarinet. This next composition starts slowly, then becomes bright with a very interesting melodic development. The musical mood is happy, joyful and upbeat. Paquito introduces the next song as, “New Tango.” There is a mysterious musical sense to this arrangement with the alto and clarinet developing the sound in creative melodic tandem. The drummer uses brushes and a soft approach on the sizzle(sustain) cymbal. Paquito embellishes the melody with articulate flourishes and crescendos. He takes an excellent solo on his clarinet. Oscar’s alto soloing is soothing and sincere, dynamically balanced and delicately touched. The piano solo is fluid with well-timed rests for excellent use of space.
The ensemble performs an excellent version of Duke Ellington’s, “In A Sentimental Mood.” The Latin flavoring is really well suited and creative. Oscar plays the soprano sax with Paquito on alto. The bossa nova treatment is sweet, slick and sexy. The alto solo is strong and ballsy, with high wailing crescendo notes. Oscar’s soprano solo is fluid and substantial with the piano solo fully rounding out the cycle of talented and creative solos. This chart is excellent with the alto and soprano saxophones executing excellent two part harmonies on the melody while the rhythm section cooks!
The second set opens with the title track of Oscar’s new CD, “El Angel.” This is a tribute to Gato Barbieri. The arrangement is slow and sincere, mysterious and sultry. There is an excellent blend of alto, piano, bass and drums. This is a superior alto feature for Oscar. He touches and caresses us with endearing melodic development then teases and tantalizes us with confident flourishes and high note crescendos. This arrangement is very inventive and musically moving.
The next song from Duke’s catalog is, “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.” This is a great chart from British bassist Howard Britz. There is a tremendous bass solo intro. The Latin flavored musical treatment and dynamic flow maintains an incredible ensemble groove. The piano solo is excellent, showcasing a creative musical cognizance with his choice of attack. The percussion and drums are teaming together in a unified rhythmic torrent of emotion that sustains and supports the creative force of the soloists. Quiet drums and percussion accompany the bass solo for a different glow to the musical expression.
The next composition, “A Friend In The Neighborhood” or “Amigos del Barrio,” is dedicated to Paquito D’Rivera. Oscar and Paquito play the melody in excellent harmonic unison. Paquito takes an exquisite alto solo showcasing clever and creative interpretation of the content. Oscar takes a superior soprano sax solo with fluid scale runs and high note crescendos. The piano solo is inventive, percussive and well balanced. The percussionist makes the sound complete as his technique complements the music completely.
The last song is the Latin standard, “Perdido.” Paquito takes the intro on his alto. Oscar and Paquito perform an excellent answer/response passage on soprano and alto, fully embellishing the melody. They articulate harmonic unison, building up to high crescendo sustain notes. Paquito’s alto solo wails! Oscar’s solo starts playfully and cautiously, toying with the melody. He then builds to an amazing musical outburst of scale runs and high notes. They take a unison solo that is tremendous. There is a drum and percussion solo that I have been waiting all night for. It’s well worth waiting for, excellent!
The Oscar Feldman Ensemble puts on a fantastic show here tonight at Ramapo College. Paquito D’Rivera is the musical icing on a delicious melodic cake. He always conveys such confidence, joy and beautiful creative excellence in his musical message. The audience fully appreciates this glorious Latin musical performance and stands in applause. Fantastic!
I go backstage to meet all the musicians. Everyone is gracious, friendly and congenial. It is such a joy to feel and witness the warm Latin hearts translate into such loving expression of musical charm. This was a GREAT experience!
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