Mari Nobre’s “Live and Alive” a Hip Album

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LIVE AND ALIVE / JOBIM: Chega de Saudade. Retrato em Branco e Preto. Corocovado. GOLSON: Whisper Not. GERSHWIN: Fascinating Rhythm. NOBRE-LOCKWOOD: Linda. YOUNG-HEYMAN: When I Fall in Love. COHEN: Dance Me to the End of Love. DOMINGUEZ: Frenesi / Mari Nobre, voc; Leo Nobre, bs; Justo Almario, t-sax/fl; Angelo Metz, acoustic/electric gtr; Daniel Szabo, pn; Sandro Feliciano, dm / Chrome Records (no number) available at CD Baby (live: Los Angeles, Jan Popper Theater, May 27, 2016)

This CD came to me for review, perhaps, a few months too early. In my mind, anyway, good Latin jazz like this is perfect for summertime listening…a tall, sweaty glass of iced tea with lemon, or maybe a whiskey sour, sitting with your shoes off, grooving and moving to the music.

None of the pieces here are particularly challenging to the mind, but the arrangements are cleverly written (by Nobre’s husband-bassist Leo Nobre and Jovino Santos) and the band really swings. More interestingly, the engineers for this session—Nobre and Jeff Lesh—have somehow managed to capture the warmth and ambience of the Jan Popper Theatre on the campus of UCLA where this session was recorded. This makes it one of only two such records in my collection, the other being the Nash Ensemble’s fantastic recording of Debussy chamber works on Virgin Classics.

Nobre’s voice is a wonderful mixture of honey and brass. She can caress a line the way Lorraine Feather does, then ramp it up and belt out a bit like Dena DeRose or Diane Krall. And she always swings. She has the kind of jazz chops that come along all too rarely, the ability to sound hip even when riding the beat in a relaxed manner.

I was also very impressed by the playing of saxist-flautist Justo Almario. He stays within the harmonic parameters of each song, yet manages to infuse every phrase with energy and drive and improvise in a coherent and creative pattern. I found their version of Benny Golson’s Whisper Not particularly interesting; the turn it into a medium-tempo swing piece, rather different from its original form, and make it work. Generally speaking, however, his flute work came behind Nobre’s voice as a form of obbligato, as for instance in Jobim’s Retrato em Brance e Preto. A thought came to me: if Stan Getz had Nobre as his vocalist on those classic Jobim recordings of the early 1960s, he might never have complained of the singing as he did of “voiceless” Astrid Gilberto. Just listen, for instance, to the way she wails through her wordless chorus on Gershwin’s Fascinating Rhythm. Those are some pretty good vocal chops.

I particularly liked their arrangement of Jobim’s overly-familiar Corcovado (a.k.a Quiet Nights and Quiet Stars). Nobre slows down the tempo and caresses the notes rather than emphasizing the rhythm, almost transforming it into an entirely new piece. Guitarist Angelo Metz has a nice if brief solo on this one, as does pianist Daniel Szabo, and when Nobre returns she sings a chorus in perfect synch with Almario sax. Yes, I know these sort of things are planned in advance, but I’m always fond of them when they’re done well, as it is here.

Nobre’s original tune, Linda, is a medium-uptempo samba with a nice groove. This is the kind of Latin music I love, hip and swinging, and even at this quicker tempo Nobre manages to convey warmth in her singing. Her set ends with three established classics, When I Fall in Love, Dance Me to the End of Love and Frenesi, and Nobre does not disappoint. Her performance of the first put me in mind of Nat “King” Cole’s famous recording, except with a bit more of a Latin jazz push to the beat; her only accompanist here is Szabo, who moves deftly from sensitive accompanist to Nat Cole-like improvisation in his solo chorus. Leonard Cohen’s most famous song is, like Whisper Not, turned into a medium-tempo swing tune, with Nobre adding some deft, hip twists to the familiar melody. Hubby Nobre’s bass solo is also very tasteful.

Frenesi is yet another example of how Nobre and her band rearrange familiar tunes. She starts out by singing the rarely-heard introductory verse slowly and out-of-tempo, then launches into the more familiar chorus with a samba beat. What a terrific finish to a great set!

If you like Latin jazz, this is one album you simply won’t want to miss.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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