Lady of the Island-- Andrea Brachfeld

Jazz flute aficionados should not overlook this CD, for Andrea Brachfeld is currently one of the best players of jazz on the instrument. Brachfeld has been best known as a Latin jazz musician since the '70's, when she became the first female flutist to play in a Charanga band in the United States (Charanga '76). Since then she has performed with many of the top Latin jazz groups and artists, including Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, and Machito, and among her awards is the 2006 Chico O'Farrill Lifetime Achievement Award. After a long 17-year hiatus to raise a family and also complete graduate school to earn her Masters, Brachfeld in 1999 embarked on a series of Latin jazz CDs that has led to Lady of the Island, her first straight-ahead jazz release. The core group heard here includes Brachfeld on C and alto flute, pianist Bob Quaranta, bassist Andy Eulau, and drummer Kim Plainfeld, supplemented by trumpeters Wallace Roney and Yasek Manzano, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, altoist Todd Bashore, pianist Bill O'Connell, and on congas and percussion, Chembo Corniel. Their performances of a diverse roster of tunes have a vitality and substance that will encourage the uninitiated to seek out other recordings from Brachfeld's discography.

The unusual harmony of Brachfeld's flute and Gordon's trombone on the tantalizing theme of the leader's "Be Bop Hanna" is a joy to the ears, as is the pair's solos. Brachfeld's is both a technical marvel and a brilliantly sustained thematic invention. Gordon follows with his unique vocalized sounds splattered throughout a flowing, lucid stream--profound and laced with humor. O'Connell's solo maintains the level of excellence, and the attentive, exuberant drumming of Plainfield adds to the allure of this opening track. Herbie Hancock's "Eye of the Hurricane" is expertly arranged by O'Connell. Brachfeld's ecstatic prelude and the compelling interwoven negotiation of the theme by the flutist, Gordon, and Roney set up wondrous solo statements by a soaring, confident Brachfeld, a knowing, always searching (and finding) Gordon, and a lustrous long-lined Roney, with jolting written vamps serving to spur on each soloist. O'Connell's concise, dancing spot just prior to the emphatic reprise is not to be ignored. Ellington's "I Got It Bad" is given a poignant duet interpretation by Brachfeld, on alto flute, and O'Connell. The pianist's captivating intro resolves into the flutist's lovely rendering of the melody. O'Connell's fills are strongly affirmative here and even more so during the sweeping, whirling flute solo that ensues. His own vigorous improv makes the most of its limited duration.

"Little Girl's Song," written by Brachfeld years ago for her now grown-up daughter, is a lyrical gem that has the welcoming character of a tried and true standard. Eulau and Quaranta's solos only confirm the viability of that first impression, both being so deeply communicative. The composer's enraptured, unbridled exploration is bolstered by the committed, driving support of Eulau, Quaranta, and a slashing, relentless Plainfield. O'Connell's up-tempo "Dead Ahead" takes no prisoners, a bristling tune that inspires fleet solos from a spiraling Roney, a multi-textured Brachfeld, and a persistent O'Connell. Eulau provides a firm foundation and Plainfield's drum work is constantly insistent. O'Connell's flavorful arrangement of Freddie Hubbard's "Birdlike" utilizes Corniel's congas for the Latin intro. The boppish line is then enhanced by the colorations of Manzano, Gordon, and Bashore. Brachfeld's solo is an irresistible combination of serene and outgoing. Gordon responds with a stunning break that launches his striving, personalized improv. Bashore's piercing alto solo salutes "Bird" Parker with hard bop authority. O"Connell's preconceived vamps and connecting passages help make this one of the CD's prime tracks.

"In the Center" is a Brachfeld tune with O"Connell's reworked bridge. It's an enchantingly reflective and wistful melody that generates a rhapsodic O'Connell solo, succeeded in turn by the soothing ebb and flow and rich, full sound of Brachfeld. Eulau also has a meaningful say before the flute's glowing reprise. Graham Nash's familiar "Lady of the Island" is dedicated to singer Jon Lucien, with whom O'Connell and Plainfield played and Brachfeld was acquainted. A love song with a swaying Latin rhythm, it receives a heartfelt treatment by Brachfeld's alto flute and Manzano's flugelhorn, each soloing movingly, buoyed by Corniel's congas. Brachfeld's wordless vocalizing provides additional texture as flute and flugelhorn exchange animated musings in the sensuous out chorus. "Four Corners" is Brachfeld's tribute to the ancient Chinese custom of Feng Shui. Corniel's pulsating congas and percussion precede the lively Latin theme played by Brachfeld and Manzano's trumpet. Manzano, who Brachfeld calls "a young lion," offers up a serpentine, full-bodied solo, which is matched by Quaranta's equally pasionate, two-handed flight. The flutist's riveting feature is alternately towering and pensive, backed, as are the other improvisers, by the provocative output of Corniel, Eulau, Plainfield, and in this case Quaranta. This selection and the previous title track give further proof that Brachfeld's high stature in the world of Latin jazz is totally deserved. The other seven tracks show how equally comfortable and productive she can be in a "pure" jazz context.

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Scott Albin