In jazz, the trio format is still the most daunting and challenging for any frontman. It can also be the greatest "showcase" for him or her to show off his or her prowess and musicianship, if successful. Multi-woodwind phenomenon Stewart Curtis faced up to this trial on record, or more precisely, on CD, on the album Saracubana - The
Stewart Curtis Trio Plays B.B. Cooper, released on 33 Records in 2002. The trio consists of Curtis himself, with pianist Rob Terry from Stewart Curtis' K-Groove septet, and double bassist Robert Rickenberg, plus special guest Chris Wells on percussion.
B.B. Cooper has written extensively for musical theatre, ballet, film, television and the pop industry, including scores for shows such as The Golem, Bronte, Goblins Don't Scare Us and Don't Shoot - I'm an Angel. It was when recording The Golem, a ballet based on Eastern European Jewish folklore, that she first collaborated with Stewart Curtis. Curtis' instant feel for her music inspired Cooper to further collaborate with him, and the result is Saracubana - The Stewart Curtis Trio Plays B.B. Cooper. Apart from the traditional Adon Olam, all tracks are Cooper originals, with arrangements by Ms. Cooper and the trio. The music itself is an eclectic blend of jazz, Afro-Cuban, classical and some traditional Jewish musical elements including klezmer.
Saracubana sees Stewart Curtis at his most lyrical and soulful. This is Stewart Curtis unplugged, and emerging triumphantly from the trio trial, regardless of which particular one of his axes he happens to be playing. Curtis simply appears to have no weaknesses, playing alto, tenor, clarinet, flute and recorder with equal strength and each with an individual, highly personal voice. Influences are discernable but never overwhelming, most notably that of Yusef Lateef in Curtis' incredibly sensuous flute and those of "Long Tall" Dexter Gordon and "The G-Man" Grover Washington Jr. in his cool, lyrical tenor.
The Latinesque opener, Mi Amore, has Stewart Curtis coming out strongly on alto, sometimes reminding somewhat of Paul Desmond's cool alto. BB goes Chopin, a dreamy, Chopinesque tune, sees Curtis' clarinet dancing beautifully between its registers, making effective use especially of the chalumeau and its contrasts with the clarinet and alto. The traditional Adon Olam is, quite simply, sheer brilliance on Stewart Curtis' lyrical, soulful tenor. His equally soulful, sensuous flute gets an outing on Fay's Theme and Variations, at just over the six minutes the most extensive track. This has a very strong "Third Stream" feel to it. Curtis again makes very effective use of all the registers of his flute, something that could almost be described as a Curtis trademark on all his axes. The title track, Saracubana, is a strongly Afro-Cuban flavoured number with Curtis on a very sexy clarinet and fiery improvs by Curtis himself and Rob Terry. A sophisticated and highly catchy tune, Saracubana stylistically sometimes reminds a little of Paquito D'Rivera - no bad thing that. Bach Goes To Mayfair has Stewart Curtis returning to his soulful tenor, here quite restrained to beautiful effect. The contrapuntal style of this piece is subtle and works supremely. Curtis' tenor turns seductive and more passionate on Bucky's Boo. Cool It Mimsie sees his clarinet at its perhaps most eloquent, if that's possible, with gorgeous wide sweeps through different registers. A cool, soulful tenor returns on Devora, contemplative and dreamy. Coops will undoubtedly surprise many listeners with Stewart Curtis switching to recorder. The effect is outstanding, stunning even, and you wonder why this instrument is so rare in jazz. Reminiscent of a Renaissance dance tune as well as of Andean flute music, this piece is a natural for the recorder, and especially for Curtis' unique voice on this instrument. Taking The Mick is a lively, foot-tapping groove with Curtis once more on tenor, ranging from lyrical and soulful to exuberant. The closer, Brana's Dance, a lively klezmer-inspired dance groove, sees Stewart Curtis' klezmer clarinet dancing effortlessly through the registers, teasing, joking, laughing, utterly exuberant and irrepressible.
The Stewart Curtis Trio have come up with an album that's destined to be a classic. Curtis sounds completely at home in the trio setting, supremely confident and totally at ease. Saracubana - The Stewart Curtis Trio Plays B.B. Cooper has to be essential in any contemporary jazz collection and will also be at home in any good contemporary klezmer or general world music collection.
© 2003,2004 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.