Annette A. Aguilar grew from the musical happening of San Francisco during the days of Carlos Santana in the sixties and seventies. She moved to New York to fall under the influence of the great Latin Jazz percussionists in abundance there.
From diverse sources arose a synthesis of sound that was anything but synthetic. Annette has created a band of musicians and vocalists who make use of a vast arsenal of styles and virtuosities that transcend the expectations of the average listener of Latin and Brasilian Jazz.
What Annette has crafted in her big band is a group grounded in the percussion without the enthrallment of “groove above all.” Without question, this band grooves with the best of them but Annette has given freedom for vocalists and the non-rhythm musicians to explore where the melodies will take them.
“The Day Waits for Nobody” is the title of the latest offering from Annette A. Aguilar & Strinbeans. In terms of the musicians, there are few constants running the length of the album with the exquisite exception of vocalist Sofia Rei Koutsovitis and Annette herself.
The album opens with the rumba-esque “Lagrimas Negras” and is introduced by the pizzicato of harp and violin. Vocalist Sofia Rei Koutsovitis joins early and makes the listener reach for the volume control straightaway to turn this up. Jennifer Vincent’s acoustic bass lays down a smooth line and the percussion both creates and rides the wave while Nicki Denner’s piano holds the melodic structure in place beautifully.
The single conga beat opens “Bebe” and is soon joined by the unmistakable bass of Ruben Rodriguez. Pablo Vergara assumes the piano and gives a foretaste of his great skills to be exhibited in greater details later on the CD. Rob Thomas arises on violin and duets with Sofia who uses her voice more like melodic percussion in the absence of lyrics. And if you were looking for a great groove, this song has it.
“Indestructible” and “A Feliz Cidade” move from salsa to samba with riveting moments of rhythm and melody that give way to the extraordinary loveliness of “Tarde em Napa” highlighted by Vergara (piano) and Thomas (violin). As on every track, Sofia’s vocals both underscore and expand the melody.
Then something wonderful happens on “Portao Dourado.” Ruben’s snap on the bass opens as Vince Cherico on drums and Vergara snatch up the beat with Annette’s hammering percussion and Ruben’s heart-pounding bass blaze the groove. The vocalization of Sofia and Nanny is almost military and the military beat is brought in behind them to close the piece. Annette created a mood that made feel like the first time I saw “Black Orpheus.” Fascinating.
“E” brings the heavy hitters together again with the lead vocal by Nanny Assis and Ruben Rodriguez giving some of his most exciting bass playing. Vergara and Cherico play with power and poise, as always. Freddie Bryant is on guitar and his playing is so well-blended within the whole that it is often easy to overlook. Replaying his tracks yielded great reward in hearing his contribution.
“E” also exhibits the raucous virtuosity of Rob Thomas on violin. He plays with the raw power of the early Jean-Luc Ponty (think of Ponty’s foray into Frank Zappa) as well as the delicacy of the later Stephane Grappelli.
However, Annette Aguilar seizes the end of “E” and breaks the rhythm into doublets to heighten the excitement as everyone rejoins for a joyous end.
“Flor de LIS” features the piano of Pablo Vergara with the vocals of Sofia Rei Koutsovitis and Nanny Assis. Sofia and Nanny remind one fondly of the great vocal interplay also enjoyed when listening to Elis Regina and Tom Jobim. The percussion is in a sweet support role that allows the vocalists and piano to springboard into unrestrained melodic dimensions. Once again Ruben Rodriguez’ bass gives the bump and jump that energizes this great number.
Annette’s vision as a bandleader has set a path and a pace on this album that culminates in this final moment. And it leaves you wanting more. She positions each musician in just the right spot to create a unity that is near-perfect. Each musician is in exactly the right place at the right time. A great leader, they say, knows how to best utilize the talents of those around.
Annette A. Aguilar is a great bandleader.
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