Chicago, Barcelona Connections-- Greg Duncan

The Chicago-based trumpeter Greg Duncan spent 2009 and 2010 in Spain, where he immersed himself in all things flamenco, and Flamenco Jazz in particular, a combination that has been explored by the likes of Chick Corea, Michel Camilo, Jerry Gonzalez, Chano Dominguez, Paco de Lucia, Miles Davis with and without Gil Evans, and even John Coltrane (Olé). Out of Duncan's experience in Spain came the idea for this project, which came to fruition with the help of a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. Duncan has stated that he "wanted to show that Flamenco Jazz is different than Latin Jazz and can be used to enhance Jazz Music by utilizing the great rhythmic and melodic traditions from Spain," and "wanted to take a more traditional approach between the two and really focus on presenting an authentic representation of the material not just from a technical perspective, but also from a cultural perspective."

The results are far from academic or studied, for the music is uninhibited, unpretentious, naturally flowing, and full of incisive improvisations. Duncan's arrangements (plus one by Dominguez) are brought to life by a group of Chicago musicians that includes, besides the leader's trumpet and flugelhorn, saxophonist Corbin Andrick, keyboardist Stuart Mindeman, bassist Patrick Mulcahy, drummer Jon Deitemyer, cajón player Javier Saume, and vocalist Patricia Ortega. Five of the more popular flamenco rhythms were chosen by Duncan, namely tango, rumba, bulerías ("2 bar rhythmic sequence felt more in 3, 6, or 12"), tanguillos ("a combination of 2 over 3 where it's felt in 3 but has cross accents"), and sevillana ("a popular dance form in Spain felt as a fast 3").

Spanish saxophonist Perico Sambeat's "De Camino" is performed as a rumba, with Duncan playing the lightly dancing theme and then adding bite and swagger in his fervent solo. Mindeman's comping is focused and salutary and his own improv is a spirited Latin-tinged romp. Mulcahy, Deitemyer, and Saume keep the infectious rhythm percolating. Duncan's "Procedencia" finds the composer blending with Andick's tenor on the tender theme, with the rhythm section heartily establishing a bulerías pulse. The trumpeter's solo soars in energetic rapture, and Mulcahy follows with lyrically enticing momentum. Mindeman's piano is sterling throughout, and Deitemyer and Saume make quite a complementary team percussively. The tanguillos rhythm used for Nat Simon's "Poinciana" seems not far from that heard on Ahmad Jamal's famous version. Andrick's alto caresses the melody and the changes in his well-crafted, captivating solo, and Mindeman's improv is laden with darting arpeggios. Saume's tasteful cajón accents are especially noticeable and enriching on this track.

"Correveidile (Run and Go Tell)" is by the Spanish flamenco fusion group Ojos de Brujo, and features Ortega's emotionally charged vocals, Duncan's robust trumpet, Andrick's twirling alto, and Mindeman's lucid piano, all help to make this arrangement a bracing success. The interplay between Saume, Mulcahy, and Deitemyer serves as both a springboard and flotation device for the soloists. Paco de Lucia's "La Tumbona" is elevated by a wonderful arrangement by Dominguez, a scintillating mixture of tango and flamenco. Andrick's silky, undulating alto reminds one of Miguel Zenón, and Ortega's passionate vocals are high points. Mindeman and Duncan on flugelhorn skillfully stay true to form, and the spicy rhythms are hard to resist. While described as a tango, the impulse and rhythmic drive of Duncan's "Straighten Up" is more post bop orientated in the initial theme introduction and its amplification by the leader and Andrick on tenor. A tango beat does appear for the reprise and subsequent demonstrative flight by Duncan. For Mindeman's surging statement, however, and the final ensemble summation, a more undiluted jazz feel prevails once again.

The rhythm section produces another tantalizing bulerías backdrop for Duncan's "Reality versus Myth," over which trumpet and alto enunciate the beseeching melody. Mindeman's radiant Fender Rhodes furnishes contrasting texture beneath the emphatic bass, trumpet, and alto solos that ensue. Duncan's arrangement, with its counterpoint, fills, and vamps is exceptional, as is Saume's heated cajón workout at the close. The traditional "Romance Anonimo," in the sevillana format, is launched by Mulcahy's mournful arco bass that precedes the perky, swaying theme, with Saume's cavorting patterns enchantingly effective. Ortega and Duncan's hand claps and Saume's solo outing over Mindeman's vamp bring considerable vitality to the next straight ahead flamenco segment. Concise but flavorful improvs by alto, trumpet, and piano lead us back to an infectious reprise. Duncan's "Spanish Life" is billed as a "Swing ballad," and his flugelhorn delivers the contemplative theme before playing a compelling solo that vacillates between jabbing outbursts and glistening extended lines. Mindeman responds with a more swinging but equally thematic and enthusiastic investigation. Duncan's elegant recap evolves into a moving and well-resolved coda.

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Scott Albin