Sunday, November 04, 2012


By Claudio Botelho
Denny Zetlin’s soporific “Wherever You Are – Midnight Moods for Solo Piano” was, in a way, some kind of a shock for me. I’ve been a long fan of him a he’d never done such a linear outing. The unwritten golden rule of alternating moods was miserably disrupted. I confess I was not able to listen to more than about 40% of it, even on the second and third trials. I’m certain I’ll never spin it again.
Zeitlin is a consolidated artist for long now and has nothing more to prove to anyone. Of course, his intent was to make a record this way, as its subtitle unquestionably shows. As an important part of the American jazz scenario for so long, given the musical stature of someone who has gained twice Down Beat’s International jazz Critics Poll, he’s allowed to record whatever he wants and those who, like me, dare to criticize his works must do it with some reservations.
Ok, Ok, he wanted, for a long time, as per his own sayings in the liner notes of the CD, to make a recording like that: something to calm down the spirits; to pay homage to some well known ballads which have long been adopted by the jazz player community…
If his aim was to make some sleep-inductive music, I have nothing more to say, except that his goal was fully achieved. As I don’t think Zeitlin is that kind of musician and that nobody would ask him to do so, I’d rather think he’d done a wrong choice by forgetting the necessary contrast that should exist in any sequence of music renderings.
This was a one-man show, as he was arranger, engineer, master, mixer, producer and studio owner and recorded it at home. The album is full of long-running songs. You can choose a song which takes 9m16s, for instance (Last Night When We Were Young), or another which runs 9m28s (The Meaning of the Blues). Still, some other with 8m49s (You Don’t Know What Love Is) or a Jobim medley which can take from you 7m10s (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars/How Insensitive) if you decide to listen to it. This hassles the whole issue!
Time to use his own words (as seen in Wikpedia): “…, communication is utterly paramount. There has to be a depth of empathy that allows you to really inhabit the other person's world ..."
I join unreservedly his saying and complement it by stating that, in art, the “paramountness” is even more paramount. What is the value of art, if it doesn’t communicate?
So, it was with a great feeling of frustration that I, after listening to his memorable “Precipice” and “Labyrinth” works, I came across to such an insipid outing. This is really a lone effort; some ruminating selfish work filled with indifference for all of us, played with lead hands…
The “human factor” was altogether dismissed this time, and it gets especially intriguing if you take into account his main occupation as a clinical professor of psychiatry…
(As I counterpoint, allow me to suggest the listening of another recording which follows a similar path, but has around “fifty shades” of darkness, ensuring, therefore, a delightful promenade into the night: Vince Mendoza’s “Nights on Earth”. This is a fabulously arranged album, which is so easy-going that may mislead some to think it’s not a major work of art. In tune to the intended calmness it should infuse in the spirit of the listener, the arrangements seem understated. Far from it, they’re rich and varied, making the prick up of one’s ears a joy).
But, as much as I was annoyed by Mr. Zeitlin (who will go on being one of my heroes), I was mesmerized by a young Cuban piano player named Alfredo Rodriguez: a common name for a great artist! His “Sound of Space” CD (named very accordingly considering its musical architecture) was the greatest surprise for me in this year. This young artist is a musical stalwart and this was spotted by Mr. Quincy Jones who, with advice from his keen eyes (or ears), didn’t let him slip through his hands: he coproduced this work. He plays piano and melodic and is helped by Gaston Joya who alternates with Peter Slavov on bass, Michael Oliveira on drums and percussion, also taking turns with Francisco Merla, Ernesto Vega on clarinet and bass clarinet and a quartet named Santa Cecilia comprising flute, oboe and French horn.
In the beginning, Rodriguez, when caught crossing the border to get into the United States, stated candidly to the authorities he wanted to live in that country and would try to get in it over and over again, if deported. All he wanted was to play his music and that country could give him all he needed. On this issue, he’s come out winning.
At 26 years old, he already has an impressive portfolio, having worked with an inordinate number of important musicians worldwide.
I think a good front cover graphics helps to sell a CD. A focused photograph properly done with sharp color contrasts, some good taste letterings, clear informations, etc. should be considered an important commercial asset. Unfortunately, many don’t think this way. The norm is to prioritize “artistry” over information. So, many times, we come across CD’s booklets which degrade the work of the artist or treats information as a secondary matter, or both. Ask Mr. Ahmad Jamal, for instance, to read the authors’ credits of the musics he plays on the back of his “Blue Moon” album…
About this, let me quote myself on something I wrote in these pages some moons ago:
“We, jazz listeners, who are always striving to know all about the performers (as it should be, as jazz is mainly a product from them) don’t have received the same treatment: many, many times, the art mixes with the information just to make it less clear, sometimes on the verge of making it unreadable! Aficionados like me, who are not teenagers anymore and, so, are kinda shortsighted, have all the difficulties in the world to distinguish a black letter in a dark blue background, or to read a multicolored written word made this way to help (help?) the reader, as it is foreground to a colorful mixed scenery.”
Why do I talk about this subject? Because the cover art of Gonzalez’s CD is nothing short of lousy. And I tell you: I missed it entirely when browsing in Amazon the other day. His name was unknown to me; as I said above, it is a very common one and the cover photo seemed like something from the fifties. To worsen things, the pictured piano he was playing is an upright one. I despise upright pianos. I hate their woody sound!
How could I think Mr. Rodriguez was such a maven with that almost childish face he sports, Mr. Quincy Jones? How could I gather that a work completely filled with strange musical themes would let many albums I’ve listened in this year in the dust? After all, I haven’t learned yet to tell the future…
At odds on all this counterproductive side work is Rodriguez musicianship: full, varied, instigating, intoxicatingly complex, filled with a multitude of rhythms linked with his short past life in his homeland, but with a strong contemporaneity, resembling, at the same time, the Caribs and the best of the occident music! A full package, with a multitude of rhythms and moods in a package as varied as life itself. 


To round out, let me quote a statement I’ve read these days, which is a little out of the reach of this blog, but that may help some two friends of mine:
“…Most modern recordings, for better or worse, never existed in real space. Therefore, the goal is to accurately reproduce what is in the final mix. Which is a long way around to stating my preference is for equipment that doesn’t embellish, but seeks accuracy and to reveal what went into the mix…”
(Jon Iverson, Streophile, Oct. 2012 issue, p. 153)
I like them closely miked…

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