A Latin Jazz artist faces many important choices when shaping the character of their debut album. First time leaders either write original music or interpret standards – their choices and the resultant musical expressions display either wisely chosen risks or lack of judgment. Artists invite different guest artists to perform, adding a sense of cohesion or confusion to the album’s overall sound. An artist musical direction deserves careful consideration; the recording represents their musical identity, one that will follow their name. Trombonist and euphonium player Rafi Malkiel offers a broad range of Latin traditions and jazz ideals on his debut as a leader, My Island.
Creative Arrangement of Standards
Malkiel arranges several standards, incorporating both jazz tradition and cultural authenticity. Malkiel’s euphonium slyly sings the melody on “Nature Boy” over a Columbian porro rhythm, trading phrases with clarinetist Anat Cohen. The song soon bursts into a Cumbia rhythm, making way for a melodically inventive solo from Cohen and intensively searching improvisation from tenor saxophonist Chris Karlic. Malkiel’s trombone growls through a wah wah mute on the melody to Ellington’s “Black and Tan Fantasy,” played as a New Orleans style dirge. The improvisational interplay between Malkiel, trumpet player Steve Gluzband, and tuba player Howard Johnson bring an authentic New Orleans feel and aesthetic to the song. Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” adopts an elegant beauty as a danzón, both through Malkiel and bassoon player Gili Sharett’s sensitive reading of the melody and the intricate arrangement. Pianist Jack Glottman and flautist Itai Kriss both deliver traditional statements until the song moves into a Cha Cha Cha for lyrical solos from Malkiel and Karlic. Malkiel and his group demonstrate a clear jazz foundation on these tunes, and their creative arranging brings the music a unique personality.
Original Compositions and Inspiring Improvisational Settings
Several original pieces showcase Malkiel’s mastery over harmonic ideas and Latin rhythmic structures. An improvised exchange between Malkiel, Gluzband, and percussionist Anthony Carrillo slowly segues into an up-tempo bomba rhythm on “Blue Bomba.” Karlic plays a bebop-flavored solo through the blues changes, followed by a note intensive improvisation from Kriss. Bassist Andy Gonzalez performs a rhythmically intricate statement, until Carrillo investigates every aspect of the bomba rhythm. The musicians find ample room for improvisation on “Gozambique,” an open descarga over a mozambique rhythm. Malkiel demands attention through his percussively strong sound, and Glottman builds his solo into an exciting climax. The syncopation throughout Gonzalez’s solo brings a quiet intensity to the piece, only to be awoken into an uproar by Carrillo. Malkiel and Cohen exchange melodic ideas over a Brazilian rhythm on the opening to “Choro for Anat.” Cohen aggressively drives sequences into the upper register of her instrument, while bassist Dave Hertzberg finds a balance between melodic and rhythmic ideas. Malkiel’s writing combines interesting jazz ideas with rhythmic traditions and creates inspiring settings for improvisation.
Grounded in Caribbean Culture
Malkiel invokes traditional Caribbean song on other tracks, utilizing vocalists and sparse instrumentation. A quasi-symphonic introduction gives way to a steady series of montunos from Glottman and tresero Chacho Schartz on “Guajira con Trombón.” Malkiel improvises extensively here, followed by an especially stirring statement from Gluzband. Schartz’s tres solo brings an authentic sound and phrasing to the song, complemented by Carrillo’s intensive percussion feature. Malkiel delicately shapes the melody on the bolero “Los Tres Juanes,” followed by Abraham Rodriguez’s conventional Cuban vocal. The passion and longing in Rodriguez’s voice, accompanied by the sparse texture, provide a sentimental atmosphere, completely honest and sincere. The familiar montuno, accompanied by Malkiel’s tipico phrasing on “Coballende” recalls early son recordings. Rodriguez proves himself a strong sonero through a series of exciting pregons, while Kriss plays a rhythmically intriguing and virtuosic improvisation. These songs ground the album in Caribbean culture, establishing a connection between modern experimentation and past tradition.
Wise Artistic Choices Display Musical Maturity
Malkiel’s finely tuned musicality and creative spirit lead him to a variety of wise artistic choices that shape My Island. His reconstruction of several jazz standards marks both knowledge of jazz history and performance practice. Malkiel’s exploration of musical styles from Brazil, Columbia, and Puerto Rico, as well as Cuba, reflects a broad study of Caribbean and South American music. The creative application of these genres reflects Malkiel’s ability to see beyond convention and look at the connections between styles. His playing sways from rhythmically intriguing to delicately lyrical and reflective, always responding to the current musical environment. Malkiel’s choice of supporting musicians fits nicely into his overall concept, and his interaction with these musicians proves inspiring. All these elements display a musical maturity beyond first time bandleader status, laying the foundation for a successful future in the Latin Jazz world.