The Spotlight Series highlights upcoming Latin Jazz musicians that have yet to reach national recognition. Many of these musicians thrive in local scenes and some tour in support of releases. All these musicians contribute greatly to the overall Latin Jazz scene, and they deserve our “spotlighted” attention.
A trio performance offers more than a chance to experience Latin Jazz in an intimate setting, it opens a door into each musician’s artistic perspective. Each musician’s instrument remains completely exposed throughout the performance, and every note makes a difference in the group’s artistic progression. The choices that the musicians make during a performance push their colleagues into new directions, so these choices must carry artistic weight. Compositions become more than a simple combination of chords and melody; they evolve into a unique opportunity to showcase each individual musician in the trio. Every instrument’s role moves fluidly between spotlight and support, or interaction and introspection. A trio performance demands experience, knowledge, attentiveness and flexibility; a tall order only complicated by the stylistic demands of Latin music. Bassist Michael Kraft, drummer Daniel Messina, and pianist Dana Landry display a solid Latin Jazz trio concept on Latin Journey, an enthusiastic performance that moves the trio through a group of original songs and arrangements.
Kraft Shows Strength As A Composer
Kraft contributes the majority of the album’s original compositions, exploring a variety of Latin influences. Landry opens “Sea Dance” with a joyful melody that glides across a samba foundation. Kraft builds variations upon the melody, until his ideas take priority in a strong statement. Landry spins clever lines that reflect the song’s inherent melodic nature and driving rhythms. An aggressive minor montuno provides an opportunity for Messina to creatively fill around the groove on “Baila Te!” before he settles into a songo behind the melody. Landry matches the song’s powerful momentum with an improvisation full of quick runs and interesting rhythmic ideas that reaches a dramatic climax. Kraft and Landry establish a series of hits that provide the framework for a virtuosic and artistically executed solo from Messina. Landry provides a mysterious harmonic setting on “The Gift” as Messina bends an Afro-Cuban 6/8 groove towards a shuffle with a pronounced backbeat. The flexible setting allows Landry to stretch phrases and imply a distinctly modern jazz approach in a powerful improvisation. The band leans back into the Afro-Cuban 6/8 with a steady groove as Messina explores the style’s rhythmic possibilities. A funky partido alto flows beneath Landry’s subtle blues melody on “Hip.” Kraft mixes assertive phrasing, strongly developed ideas, and a funky touch into an engaging improvisation. Landry takes his time developing his ideas, growing from short sly phrases into aggressive streams of notes. Kraft proves to be a strong composer, and his pieces provide a defined artistic shape to the album.
Messina Offers A Different Compositional Perspective
Messina brings a very different compositional approach into two tracks, reflecting alternate influences. Landry and Kraft play an interesting ostinato pattern over a cha cha cha rhythm on “El Sueño del Pibe” which includes a variety of rhythmic displacements. As Landry shifts gears into the melody, Messina employs a more fusionesqe feel underneath the band. The melody gives way to Landry’s solo that plays off the frenetic groove, alternating between fast runs and sheets of chords. Kraft dramatically offers short melodic ideas between band hits on “Buscando Tu Mirada” until the group changes the tone for a gentle melody. The band breaks to a thin texture behind Kraft’s well-constructed solo and then leaps into action as Landry stretches several ideas across the form. After a return to the melody, Messina develops a tasteful improvisation, presenting a variety of percussive colors against a steady groove. These songs offer an interesting contrast to Kraft’s compositions and reveal more about the band’s influences.
Viewing Several Artists Through The Trio’s Eyes
Kraft applies his arranging skills to three compositions from a variety of modern composers. A call and response between Kraft and Landry gives way to a catchy melody over a songo rhythm on Bill Frisell’s “Amarillo Barbados.” Landry cleverly uses dynamic changes and thematic development to build his statement. As the band lowers its volume, Kraft assertively jumps into a short improvisation that displays a progressive melodic sensibility. A mixture of drama and sensitivity fuels Landry’s rubato solo on Charlie Haden’s “Our Spanish Love Song,” until Messina and Kraft join him with a bolero behind the melody. Kraft thoughtfully constructs a delicate statement on fretless bass, revealing an insightful improvisational approach. Landry returns to the melody, which gives way to a rubato cadenza from Kraft that carefully intertwines pieces of the melody with Landry. A unison introduction between Landry and Kraft transitions into an upbeat melody over a pan-Caribbean feel on Chuck Mangione’s “Buttercorn Lady.” Kraft cleverly wraps melodic lines through his upper register that reflect the song’s positive atmosphere. Landry mixes pieces of the song’s powerful major tonality with blues ideas in a well-constructed solo that leads back into the melody. These tracks move outside the group’s compositional approach and allow them to creatively interpret some well-known modern works.
Leaving A Vivid Impression
Kraft, Landry, and Messina stand as an effective and interesting trio on Latin Journey, displaying artistry on many levels. Kraft emerges as an intelligent composer on several tracks, skillfully weaving his knowledge of Latin styles with lush jazz harmonies. Messina reveals a uniquely modern melodic sensibility on his compositions, as well as an underlying fusion influence. Kraft’s integration of several arrangements show a connection to a wide array of artists and the ability to place their work within a Latin Jazz setting that complements the trio. Each musician improvises with strength and personality, grabbing their spotlights with passion. Landry stands out as a particularly strong voice, constantly spinning clever, inspiring, and energetic improvisations. Messina and Kraft both indulge their support roles vigorously, fluidly moving between foundation and interaction. The trio displays a high degree of trust throughout the album, reflecting extensive shared performance experiences. Kraft, Landry, and Messina display many fine qualities of a Latin Jazz trio on Latin Journey, leaving us with a vivid impression of three confident, professional, and creative artists.
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