Vince Mendoza’s freshly textured Nights on Earth testifies to this Renaissance man’s ability to meld different musical cultures. “Everything Is You” is a Latin roundelay; “Lullaby” is grave chamber music; the brooding “Otono” is scalloped, Alan Pasqua’s piano and Larry Goldings’ organ pacing the guitars of Nguyen Le and Louis Winsberg; and “Conchita” is a Latin blues, Stephane Guillaume’s alto sax making it unexpectedly wild.
The first CD devoted to Mendoza compositions since 1997’s Epiphany spans genres and legacies. Unlike 54, last year’s project with guitarist John Scofield featuring Mendoza as head of Metropole Orkest, the Dutch orchestra he has led since 1995, Nights constantly shifts topography, making it continually surprising. (Nights is perfect for shuffle mix.) His work with everyone from Björk to Joe Lovano seems to keep Mendoza on the intellectual tip. Here, it leads him to deploy soulful Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza (“Ao Mar”) and French sax wailer Guillaume (“Conchita” and “Shekere”), along with old friends Scofield (his solo on “Gracias” is pure velvet) and Lovano (plump and persuasive on “The Stars You Saw”).
No matter the tempo, gravity and grace attend Mendoza’s compositions. And his unusual voicings-pairing French horn with flute, the harp-like kora with electric guitar-give his melodies singular suppleness. A composer-arranger at the level of Gil Evans and the similarly eclectic Maria Schneider, Mendoza has delivered a lovely CD, one that’s exotic in the best, most worldly sense.