Connection Caracas - New York-- Alí Bello

The New York-based, extremely versatile, classically-trained Venezuelan violinist Alí Bello has performed in numerous genres, including jazz, pop, R & B, Middle Eastern, flamenco, and many South American styles. For this CD, Bello's focus to some extent is on Afro-Venezuelan, although he touches upon Latin, Afro-Caribbean, and flamenco as well. Thanks to Bello's ravishing violin and the fervently receptive support of 12 other musicians in various combinations, the music consistently exudes vitality, cohesiveness and a natural flow.

The leader's "Amare" features Afro-Venezuelan quitiplá drums made up of bamboo tubes, as played by Neil Ochoa, and a 6/8 rhythm from Juancho Herrera's guitar and Alvaro Benavides' bass, combining to create the vibrant pulse over which Bello unveils the sweet, inviting melody, soon joined by Javier Olivencia's tenor sax. Bello's electric violin solo is sweeping in its emotional and technically diverse thrust. Olivencia answers with surging lines and pointed exclamations. After the reprise, Herrera and Benavides briefly play off one another before Bello and Olivencia do the same at greater length and intensity. "In G" is a Latin jazz tune, with Latin, swing, and Venezuelan rhythms mingling infectiously. Bello's swaying theme is gracefully heartfelt in its portrayal by his violin, and pianist Luis Perdomo and bassist Luques Curtis deliver strongly lyrical statements before Bello's own soaringly passionate solo. Bello's "Kiss" is Afro-Caribbean with a 5/8 rhythm that is enlivened by Benavides bass guitar, Herrera's four-string Venezuelan cuatro, and José Moreno's cajón. Over this layer, Bello offers another appealing melody, blues-tinged this time, as is his spirited solo. Herrera's improv in contrast effectively brings a more indigenous sound to the fore, after which Bello's out chorus struts nimbly to the rhythmic brew.

The title of Pedro Cortés' "Zapateao" comes from the Zapateado de Flamenco, a percussive dance, and Moreno's cajón simulates the sound of shoes on floor, as does the rhythmic, repetitive melody from Bello's beguiling violin. A highlight is the intricate contrapuntal interaction between violin, Cortés' guitar, and Sean Kupisz' bass guitar. "Guajira" was composed by Cortés as a Cuban Guajira, a lesser-known flamenco style, here in 6/8 rhythm. Bello's instrument sings out the enchanting melody, as hand claps, Cortés' guitar, and Kupisz' bass guitar permeate the atmosphere, continuing on during the violinist's unpretentious, multi-textured exploration. "Mofongo," described as a "Cha-Cha Blues," finds Bello's electric violin and Raul Agraz' mellow flugelhorn sharing the funk-shaded theme, with Perdomo providing soulful accompaniment. Agraz mostly soothes and charms in his solo, while Perdomo gets down and gritty in his forceful flight. Bello's spot utilizes wah-wah effects skillfully and discerningly. Perdomo's montuno backs Bello's invigorating exchanges with Agraz, and the reprise leaves space for a driving drum workout by Willie Martínez.

For "Cazón," culo'e puya drums and a chordophone bandolas guitar add zesty native flavor to an Afro-Venezuelan / jazz fusion. Bello's eerie sounding electric violin plays the lilting melody, with Olivencia's soprano taking the first penetrating solo, after which the leader's distinctive improv steers into darker territory. Hugo Blanco's "Moliendo Cafe" is a popular Venezuelan song with an enticing, dancing melody. Bello's solo only enhances its attractiveness through his warm, engaging elaborations, aided tunefully by just Perdomo, whose own invention toys thoughtfully with the theme. Bello returns even more animatedly over Perdomo's hearty montuno for a memorable out chorus. "Untraveled" is a Venezuelan-style tonada, or worksong, music and lyrics by Bello, the latter vocalized by Leonardo Granados. Bello's violin is both reverent and classically brilliant, and Granados is sincerely compelling in his llanero, or Venezuelan cowboy, voice, as he sings of hopes, dreams, and enlightenment.

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Scott Albin