Album of the Week – Con Alma, Mark Weinstein

by chip on August 18, 2007

Collaboration lies at the heart of any successful performance – a fact all artists must remember when gathering musicians for a recording. The personnel needs to compliment each other artistically while reflecting a variety of musical backgrounds. The repertoire needs to challenge the musicians and at the same time, they must demonstrate mastery over the material. The ensemble should display a mutual respect for their tradition while pushing it in creative directions. Flautist Mark Weinstein balances all these factors on Con Alma, bringing together a bi-coastal group of musicians with immense amounts of life, creativity and musicality.

Modern Jazz Repertoire and Latin Rhythms
Weinstein and his group tackle a challenging modern jazz repertoire, adapted into Latin rhythms. The stuttering rhythmic figures of Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” work well over the double time rumba-like feel. Weinstein provides a fiery solo, blazing through the changes against the drummers’ manic performance. The classic standard “Stella by Starlight” receives a warm and respectful Salsa interpretation. Weinstein takes an extended solo through familiar territory while Pianist Mark Levine explores new harmonic approaches. Bassist Santi Debriano’s bowed solo blends Cachao and Paul Chambers into a mix of rhythmic and melodic invention. Levine explodes into a powerful montuno, opening the door for strong statements by drummer Mauricio Herrera and conguero Pedro Martinez. Wayne Shorter’s “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” comfortably rides in a funky cross between Danzón and Salsa. Weinstein’s solo reflects a combination of bluesy licks and rhythmic ideas while Levine adds contemporary melodic development. Martinez and Herrera energetically trade eight measure phrases before Weinstein improvises into the melody. The group organically combines traditional Latin Jazz with swing on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma.” Both Levine and Weinstein utilize these feel changes to create solid statements until Debriano plays a sensitive solo that connects deeply with the song’s changes. The musicians demonstrate a deep understanding of modern jazz through their inspired performances.

Band Members As Composers
Several band members contribute original songs to the album. Weinstein’s “Broadway Local” combines “Giant Steps” changes with a melodic twist and several new modulations. Levine displays his mastery of these classic changes, melting them into an intriguing statement. Weinstein’s breathy tone exposes a flurry of notes, exploring all avenues of the harmony. Levine’s “La Coneja Loca” provides a traditional Cha Cha Cha, with a jazz based piano montuno supporting a rhythmic melody. Weinstein immediately attacks the song with intensive rhythmic ideas and quick runs, inspiring a wealth of response from the drummers. Levine takes a more melodic approach, building from a sparse texture into a full mixture of montunos and harmonic ideas. Debriano and Levine open “Santi’s Africaleidescope” with a subtle 6/8 groove that quickly segues into a rhythmic melody. Weinstein and Levine both deliver inspiring solos before Debriano works his way into the upper reaches of his bass for a melodic exploration of the song. The artists display a strong musicianship on these songs, both as performers and composers.

Unique Musical Selections
Weinstein also chooses some unique selections that add a different flavor to the album. Mulgrew Miller’s “Soul-Leo” provides the perfect setting for a funky Cha Cha Cha groove, balanced with a bit of swing. Levine, Weinstein, and Debriano all thrive on the feel, playing against it with an inspired vigor. Martinez improvises through the reprise of the melody, pushing the song to an exciting ending. Weinstein starts the soulful groove to Bobby Hutcherson’s “Gotcha” on bass flute until the rhythm section adds a funky feel. He continues into a subtle blues flavored solo, enriched by his instrument’s rich tone. The percussionists enter a double time feel, providing solo space for Martinez until Weinstein returns to the main groove. The group creates an album highlight with their creative exploration of John Coltrane’s “Crescent.” A free improvisation moves into a bolero-esque feel, eventually arriving in up-tempo Salsa. Levine plays a particularly inspired solo here, reflecting a study of both McCoy Tyner and Coltrane himself. He moves a variety of sequenced lines through the changes, building a beautiful melodic statement. The band falls back into free improvisation, ending the song with the slower repetition of the melody. These steps outside standard repertoire reveal the group’s unique influences and daring nature.

A True Collaboration
Weinstein and his musicians successfully bring together the necessary elements that raise Con Alma into a unified display of personality. Levine’s presence brings a West Coast flavor to the recording; the musicians approach the songs with a straight ahead cool that exposes their comfort and control. The repertoire reflects a broad knowledge of jazz – Weinstein and his group cover serious material that lies at the heart of the jazz tradition. At the same time, they establish themselves as composers and active participants in the music’s history. The ensemble utilizes ample creativity in their application of Latin rhythms, always bordering on taste. From start to finish, the group commits itself to a serious exploration of jazz and Latin music, finding inspiration both in their mission and the high level musicality between them. Resultantly, Weinstein’s group displays a powerful musicianship throughout the recording that strikes at the heart of collaboration.

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