Latin Beat '08
ANDY NEVALA: “ALONE TOGETHER”
Liner notes by Chip Stephens
As a jazz pianist, educator, father, mentor, husband and just about anything else you can think of, my life’s experience has lead me to the reality that there isn’t one way of doing anything. Perhaps at the end of the day, one way might in truth, be better than another, but, this too is very subjective.
This is no truer than in jazz. When I was much, much younger, I felt that my approach to the music was in my very naïve brain, the tried and true-all of musical treatments - it had to be, I wasn’t happy otherwise. I was foolishly, an elitist. With maturity and experience however, I opened to the vast array of other approaches and treatments that in the end, are every bit as valid as my own.
The idea of acknowledging another’s approach and style is something that would well benefit society as a whole. It’s as simple as saying, “what you do what you are, is valid - period”! This attitude has impacted my personal outlook on life, relationships, my playing and teaching in a most positive way. It’s not about doing things “my way” or anyone else’s for that matter. It’s about helping people find a way. This is not to underestimate the benefits of studying from the masters mind you.
One definition of originality is picking obscure sources. There’s humor and irony in this quote, but, Andy Nevala has found a way his way - of expressing himself that is original, fresh, interesting and inclusive. His playing evokes the primary spirit of jazz in the most obvious of ways, individual expression. He has an affinity for Latin music and plays it with the rhythmic precision and understanding of many of the Latin greats. His harmonic and linear approaches are startling and he has selected his band mates with care because they cook collectively.
The title cut “Alone Together”, recalls the fearless abandon of Michel Camillo and Eddie Palmeri. The quartet’s great energy and fresh treatment of this often played standard is a welcomed listening experience. Articulate bass work from Matt Spencer adds yet another level of musical and technical prowess.
I listen scientifically to drummers and percussionists because many play as if they’re simply hitting things. I don’t hear their story. Veteran congalero Victor Nieves tells a story and extracts the depth of sound from the congas that I love and want to hear. The combination of Victor and drummer Mike Marlier is infectious. Mike’s drumming encompasses the wide range of color that I expect from a great drummer. From the hard-hitting dimension, to simply fulfilling his role - playing impeccable time, it’s all there!
Andy’s arrangement of “Autumn Leaves” won him “The Best Jazz Arrangement Award” in Down Beat Magazines Annual Student Music Awards in 2003. It’s nice to hear it here as it showcases his great arranging abilities and the contrapuntal approach to writing that he utilizes all to well. He and Matt play a counter line underneath the right hand melody - it’s not easy to do! It requires independence and coordination. A consistently fresh harmonic treatment does not disappoint either.
“Nocturne” showcases the compositional talents of Andy. It’s a beautiful dark flower of a composition that haunts and evokes a wonderful range of emotion. Appropriately, one of the albums other bassists, Jose Gonzalo Teppa, has selected the acoustic bass for this composition and his warm sound complements the character of the piece beautifully. Brushes from Mike for most of the piece add to the serene undercurrent that supports the work.
This album is one you have to count to. Mike’s intro on “Caravan” again keeps you guessing - which I love. He propels this version like a camel on caffeine. Take me away from the same old formula that we’ve been using in jazz for nearly a hundred years now. It’s great! This should be called “Caravan Mucho Callientes Hot”! Trombonist Darren Kramer exploits the outer limits of the instruments parameters, creating sounds that baffle and intrigue. No rendition of this song would ever be complete without solos from the percussion battery and again, Victor Nieves delivers a fine one and his contributions provide superb energy and support throughout.
“Fragile” written by Sting is one of the albums 7 trio compositions. Its depth is indicative of the composer’s soul and Andy’s arrangement captures the integrity and sad romance of this tender piece beautifully.
Keep countin’……“Dot Com Bustion” is an odd meter piece. With its bar of 4/4 followed by a bar of ¾, it’ll keep you on your toes. The exciting bassist Bijoux Barbosa pushes the envelope with his daring linear approach to this somewhat ambiguous harmonic pattern.
The last original from Andy is “Serpentina”. This composition perfectly demonstrates the democratic mind-set that defines any good improvisationally based music. Andy spreads the risk of soloist, accompanist and leader never afraid to share the spot light with his fellow band mates.
“Tres Lindas Cubanas” encapsulates what this album is all about; authentic Afro-Cuban music played with honesty, originality, integrity and precision. The veteran bassist Jimmy Trujillo has defined himself as the timbao king of the Rocky Mountain region. His support and understanding along with Victor on congas, Jose Espino on percussion and the authentic violin work of Nicole Routman are outstanding.
The CD closes with another burner, “What Is This Thing Called Love”. Fine drum work from the albums other drummer, Brian Dillon sets up the melody to close out a fun, interesting and original project that is worthy, valid and most importantly, a good listen. Enjoy!