With Soul (And Passion)
A new Mark Weinstein album is always a cause for excitement and listening to any new release by this titan of the jazz flute and of Afro-Cuban and, for that matter any other kind of jazz you care to think of, is always a source of great excitement, pleasure, and surprises. And thus of course, it is with Mark Weinstein's 2007 release, Con Alma (With Soul).
The title ought provide some clue as to what Weinstein is serving up this time. Named after the classic Dizzy Gillespie composition, Con Alma is a visit to straight-ahead Latin jazz, given the inimitable Mark Weinstein treatment, with soul and passion, the way that only Weinstein's innovative genius and big heart can bring to any kind of music.
Charting for an incredible 26 weeks in 2007, Mark Weinstein's Con Alma reached No. 1 in the World Music and No. 2 in the Jazz charts of JazzWeek and won Weinstein Latin Jazz Corner's "Best Latin Jazz Flautist of 2007".
Mark Weinstein assembled a formidable side for Con Alma. Bassist Santi Debriano and paercussionist/singer Pedrito Martinez (here on congas) are already familiar from previous Weinstein recordings. To these he added West Coast pianist Mark Levine, one of the most creative jazz pianists of our time, and drummer Mauricio Herrera. The short-but-sweet and succinct liner notes are by no less an illustrious figure than the great salsa bandleader Larry Harlow, whose band was Weinstein's first regular professional musical employment back in the day.
The first thing that strikes you about Con Alma is that it provides the perfect vehicle for Mark Weinstein's more fluid than ever flutes, surpassing the fluidity of the sax even. Weinstein makes the absence of an intervening reed work for him, instead of fighting against it, and at the same time his flutes are the closest thing to the "singing" sound so striven for in the Indian bansuri flute that I have ever encountered and indeed had previously thought almost impossible to come near with western concert flutes. If you listen to one of Steve Gorn's bansuri recordings (he had the finest exponent of the bansuri of his generation, the late great Shri Gour Goswami who died so tragically young, for his teacher), you will know what I mean. Mark Weinstein's voice on his flutes is unlike any other before him and both this voice and his technique have attained unprecedented heights of perfection and combined with his inimitable style have completely re-defined the jazz flute.
The selection of tracks on Con Alma is very eclectic and includes eight classics, of which one each from past giants Dizzy Gillespie, the "father" of Latin jazz, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and Wayne Shorter, and three originals, one each by Weinstein himself, Mark Levine, and Santi Debriano.
The opener of Mark Weinstein's Con Alma is supplied by the last-mentioned Debriano, Santi's Africaleidescope, an afro in 6/8 with a quite haunting melody over a delicious Afro-Cuban groove laid down by Pedrito Martinez and Mauricio Herrera. Between them, Mark Weinstein's flute and Mark Levine's ivories provide the most exciting and inventive improvs heard in straight-ahead Latin jazz for a long, long time, and set the tone for the rest of this album, as indeed does Santi Debriano's bass solo that is a wonderful showcase of his technique and inventiveness. The Weinstein original Broadway Local was first heard on Three Deuces as a flute and guitar duet. Here it is given a completely fresh interpretation, with very sleek soloing from Weinstein and Levine. The title track, Dizzy Gillespie's Con Alma, a slow cha cha ballad, is given a highly romantic and elegant treatment, enhanced by Mark Weinstein giving his wonderful alto flute the lead here. Weistein's soloing here is of an almost other-worldly elegance and sophistication, enhanced by very laid-back, sophisticated soloing from Levine as well as Debriano. A classy interpretation of a great classic. The unforgettable Trane (John Coltrane) supplies the next track, the memorable Crescent. The theme is played as a slow, sweet and lyrical danzón, followed by highly imaginative soloing by Weinstein and Levine to the fast Latin beat of the rhythm section, before briefly returning to the danzón, closing with some spacy flute. I cannot count the number of interpretations of this great standard that I have heard, but none have been in the class of Mark Weinstein's or even near. Fee Fi Fo Fum, a Wayne Shorter composition, sees the return of Weinstein's alto. The drums and congas laying down the groove beging this track, and Weinstein's alto and Levine's piano solos suavely hover between a Latin and blues feel, weaving in and out of the two smoothly. Thelonious Monk's Evidence is generally considered one of his most challenging and distinctive heads, and Mark Weinstein opens and closes it with an equally distinctive Latin beat alone. Weinstein's singing and dancing improvs are extraordinary.
The Mark Levine original La Coneja Loco is a cha cha that shows off Weinstein's and Levine's Latino styling to the fullest. The Latino swing is delicious and sophisticated, as is the soloing. The concluding conversation among flute, bass and conga is a special delight. Rarely heard before Mark Weinstein, his bass flute takes the lead on Gotcha, opening with solo bass flute and then unison with piano and bass. The groove laid down by drums and congas is irresistable with very imaginative use of rumba on the congas. The percussion together with Weinstein's inventive bass flute solo are the undisputed stars here. At nearly nine minutes, Soul-Leo is the longest track on Con Alma, with some fantastic soloing from Weinstein, Levine, Debriano and Martinez. Cuban flutist Orlando (Maraca) Valle is the author of Monte Adentro. Here Weinstein combines alto and bass flutes, a fabulous sound first heard on 2005's Algo Mas where Weinstein was creating whole choirs of flutes. Weinstein's solos are Latin sophistication personified, and Levine's ivories also shine. We are also treated to an outstanding extended drum solo by Mauricio Herrera. The classic standard Stella By Starlight furnishes the closer of Mark Weinstein's Con Alma. The swing is perfection, the soloing superlative all round, with Debriano taking a laid-back bowed bass solo. Weinstein is at his most playful here with his dancing and soaring improvs.
Con Alma represents both the most exciting and the most sophisticated straight-ahead Latin jazz album for many years. Mark Weinstein shows yet again that he simply knows no boundaries of musical style or "genre". He is not only equally at home in any style, he makes it his own and gives it the stamp of his unique creative genius. It is truly refreshing to hear a truly orginal Latin jazz album once again, and it is no surprise that it has been such a critical success. More strength to Weinstein and his Magic Flute!
No Latin jazz collection can ever be complete without Mark Weinstein's Con Alma. Pure joy.
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