Stephen Byram: Music for Your Eyes

MICA_postre

The packaging for recordings is a rich but peculiar art form. It’s a very visible piece of art, but the creators are mostly anonymous. It’s creative but also utilitarian, a piece of advertising. Ideally, it represents the artist and the music inside, but it’s also a corporate branding tool for a label. Even a few serious jazz fans might have no idea who David Stone Martin, Burt Goldblatt, Esmond Edmonds or Reid Miles are — but their work for Clef, Verve, Blue Note, Columbia or Prestige would be instantly recognizable to them and evoke entire eras in jazz.
All that seemed destined to become a quaint memory with the advent of CDs in the 1980s. (Of course, CDs along with all other physical music delivery platforms seem now well on their way to becoming quaint artifacts themselves, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

Still, some artists found ways to create original, distinctive work, work that both represented the music and gave it a fighting chance in a desperately crowded marketplace. Consider Stephen Byram.

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Joao Gilberto, Guitarist, Composer, Singer, and Bossa Nova Pioneer, Has Died

Joao Gilberto, guitarist, singer, songwriter, and a key figure in the creation and development of bossa nova, died in Rio de Janeiro, Saturday. No official cause of death was given. He was 88.

Born João Gilberto Prado Pereira de Oliveira, he launched his career, and announced the arrival of a new genre, with his recording of “Chega de Saudade” (1958), an early classic by Antonio Carlos Jobim and poet Vinicius de Moraes.
An album of the same name followed the next year. It was the first of a trilogy of albums by Gilberto, completed in 1961, that included O amor, o sorriso e a flor (Love, A Smile and a Flower), and Joao Gilberto. They defined the sound of bossa nova.

“Bossa nova was scandalously subversive in Brazil,” singer and songwriter Caetano Veloso once told me. “And the fact that it inverted the relation “center-periphery” [in global culture] going from influenced to influencer of jazz and pop is a sign of its subversive dimension at a global level.”

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Chucho Valdés on a Summer Night

From l. to r. Chucho Valdés, piano; Ramón Vázquez, bass; Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé, batá drums and vocals; and Yaroldy Abreu, percussion and vocals.

Maestro Chucho Valdés is 77 and clearly not inclined to waste time.
Leading his Jazz Batá Quartet at an outdoors free concert in Hollywood, FL, Saturday night, the pianist and composer offered an uncompromising set, dazzling technically, demanding on the audience, and intense throughout.
You don’t become Chucho Valdés by taking it easy now and then.

Most of the program was drawn from his latest recording, Jazz Batá 2, and the material served as a starting point from which to probe and explore. Sometimes in the span of a piece, for example, Valdés would set out to examine connections. He announced his intentions before “Lorena’s Tango” — and then he took the audience on a trip from old-style tango to the African roots of the genre and back. But later, he did it almost casually in a performance of  “Ochún,” a song to a deity of Santeria that subtly turned into a Sunday morning gospel song. Just as you realized what was happening, the hymn vanished in the humid air and we were back before Ochún. And Valdés also teased jazz fans with fluid, post-bop moments and an angular, forceful nod (or two) to Cecil Taylor, one of his idols.

All that said, the performance also had its lighter moments — a dancer joining in, with a piece in progress, unplanned. (Call it an unexpected salute to Tropicana); a call-and-response between audience and stage; and an encore that included the irresistible “Bacalao Con Pan” — with Valdés doing some of the singing, no less.

If someone was expecting just a light fare and old hits to pass a couple of hours outdoors on a hot and humid summer night, well, sometimes you get more than what you expected — even if you didn´t know you wanted it or you needed it.
We should always be so lucky.