Street rhythm

By JON GARELICK  |  August 25, 2009

On a recent Wednesday night at Ryles, Gonzalez is facing the usual challenges for a musician trying to organize a last-minute gig. This event has been billed as the Candombe Project with a quintet. But the trombonist and the trumpeter have canceled. Czech pianist Jirí Nedoma is gamely filling in for regular (and fellow Uruguayan) Nando Michelin — on one rehearsal. Between sets, Gonzalez confides, “I told him, ‘You know all that stuff we did in rehearsal? Forget it, we’re not doing any of it!’ ”

But at a certain point, Nedoma locks in with percussionists Gabriel Lugo (Puerto Rico) and Alejandro Giuliani (Argentina), drummer Francisco Molina (Chile), and the superb bassist Ignacio Long (Argentina). They play a mix of Gonzalez originals and pieces by Uruguayan masters like Jaime Roos and Rubén Rada, Gonzalez combining her attractive light singing voice with her earthy, lyrical tenor playing. Her own tango — “Mujer soñando con la evasión,” based on the painting by Joan Miró — is a standout: a tango rhythm and melody twisted with modern dissonant harmonies in the manner of Astor Piazzolla, and a subdued interlude for Gonzalez’s probing tenor work. At several points during the show, she joins her percussionists, grabbing the medium-sized repique drum, which is painted green, purple, and yellow — the colors of her neighborhood.

Gonzalez’s next Big Band performances will be in the fall: October 1 at the Lily Pad, October 14 at Ryles, and October 29 at the Beehive.

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COLOR AND INTIMACY: Holland takes his Octet to Tanglewood’s Labor Day weekend jazz fest.
At the opposite extreme of the jazz career path is Dave Holland, who comes to the Tanglewood Jazz Festival a week from Sunday with his Octet. Holland has been an international figure on the jazz scene ever since Miles Davis recruited him for his transition into electric jazz rock in the late ’60s. But, really, Holland’s done it all: creating an avant-garde classic in his 1972 debut as a leader, Conference of the Birds (ECM), with drummer Barry Altschul and saxophonists Sam Rivers and Anthony Braxton; working as a key member of Rivers’s band and Braxton’s; and playing a gazillion dates with everyone from Hank Jones and Jim Hall to Pat Metheny and Herbie Hancock.

The Octet is a kind of compromise between Holland’s 13-piece big band and his core Quintet. “I always liked the octet sound,” he tells me on the phone from his home near Woodstock, New York, mentioning Ellington’s small-group projects. “It gives you a tremendous palette to work with color-wise, but at the same time it gives you the intimacy of a small group. And it’s a chance to include three musicians I love playing with: Antonio Hart [alto sax], Alex Sipiagin [trumpet], and Gary Smulyan [baritone sax].” For the Octet, these three join the rest of Holland’s longstanding Quintet: saxophonist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibist Steve Nelson, and drummer Nate Smith.

There is, of course, rhythmic variety in every Holland project, from Latin to jazz swing and funk, and also a feeling for melodic and harmonic content, and a very Mingus-like taste for contrapuntal collective improv. And there is the strong but pliant virtuoso bass at the center of every improvisational storm. At this point in his career, Holland has a broad arsenal of compositional approaches. On last year’s Pass It On (Dare2, his own label), “Double Vision” is all fast-moving Monkish sharp angles, whereas “Lazy Snake” could be an update of Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not,” or some other Jazztet-like groove.

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