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David Gordon Trio

Speaks Latin


by Ian Mann

September 14, 2013


An album that combines a genuine spirit of fun with a serious examination of Latin American song forms.

David Gordon Trio

“Speaks Latin”

(Nimbus Alliance NI6241)

I’ve always admired the playing of David Gordon, mainly because he’s an extremely accomplished and highly versatile pianist, but also because he’s one of the few nationally known jazz musicians to have performed in my home town of Leominster, once with his trio and once with the tango/gypsy group Zum. I’ve also seen him play elsewhere as a member of groups led by violinist Christian Garrick and saxophonist Theo Travis.

The Gordon Trio featuring drummer Paul Cavaciuti and the Danish bass player Ole Rasmussen visited Leominster in 2007, just before the advent of The Jazzmann. I remember an enjoyable evening of contemporary piano jazz with much of the material drawn from that trio’s 2005 recording “Angel Feet” (Zah Zah Records). Classically trained on both piano and harpsichord the adaptable Gordon divides his time between the worlds of classical, jazz and tango and commands considerable respect within each of his chosen fields. Frequently there’s a degree of intersection as in the group Respectable Groove, a kind of cross between an early music ensemble and a jazz group with Gordon playing harpsichord. He’s also got degrees in mathematics and logic - this is one very clever guy.

Gordon has an ongoing fascination with the music of Latin America as evidenced by his membership of Zum and the inclusion a tango and a rhumba among the standards and contemporary piano jazz on “Angel Feet”.  His current trio featuring Cavaciuti and bassist Jonty Fisher takes things a step further with this album (Gordon’s fifth in the jazz piano trio format) consisting entirely of Latin or Latin inspired tunes with a focus on the folkloric traditions of South America. “Speaks Latin” consists of fourteen relatively brief pieces focussing on differing folk musics from various parts of South America -choro from Brazil, milonga from Argentina and so on - with Gordon’s brief but succinct notes adding a few words of explanation and interest about each tune. The playing is excellent throughout and the trio even burst into song at one point, though I’m still not entirely convinced as to the wisdom of that idea!

And so on to the music beginning with “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” by Osvaldo Farres which Gordon describes as “taking ambiguity to a new level”. Nimble pianistics, deeply resonant bass and neatly detailed drumming combine on a piece that studiously probes the harmonic and rhythmic possibilities of Farres’ tune.

Gordon’s arrangement of “La Chipola”, a traditional harp tune from Venezuela, is positively joyous with this supremely interactive trio again clearly enjoying their increasingly energetic explorations of the contours of the piece. Fisher impresses with his bass solo Gordon is in particularly sparkling form with his fleet fingered runs and bravura soloing.

The Chilean songwriter and theatre director Victor Jara is an artist who has acquired something of a cult following in the UK for his songs of love, peace and social justice. Also a political activist he was brutally murdered in 1973 by the Pinochet government, one of their earliest victims..  In the song “Angelita Heunuman”  he wrote of the struggle of a poor weaving woman and of her subsistence existence in the mountains. “She weaves a flower so miraculously you can smell its perfume” sates the lyric. The piece certainly brings out the lyrical side of the Gordon trio with the leader’s mellifluous pianism embellished by the delightful details of Cavaciuti’s sympathetic drumming. Fisher’s solo bass interludes prove him to be an excellent replacement for the departed (and very good) Rasmussen.

“Duerme Negrita” is a well known lullaby from the border area between Colombia and Venezuela. Gordon says of his arrangement of this traditional tune “in our version we try to wake the baby”, something the trio achieves by means of insistent E.S.T.  like grooves that incorporate more fine bass work from Fisher and something of a drum feature from the imaginative Cavaciuti

The Gordon original “Sambova” combines Argentinian and Brazilian rhythms in a way that the composer describes as “from the sublime to the ridiculous”, a reference to the previous track. He does himself a disservice for in reality the piece is rather lovely with Cavaciuti excelling in the role of colourist during the first,  gently brooding, tango inspired section. The Brazilian episodes are more relaxed and lighter in mood with a wonderfully melodic solo from Fisher, and a playful, positively joyous closing section. 

“Como sao Lindos os Yougis” (subtitled “Waltz for Bebel” ) is Joao Gilberto’s tribute to his young daughter and features a gentle wordless vocal on the opening and closing sections. Elsewhere Gordon takes control of the tune, performing his solo in a style that homages the late great Bill Evans. 

The trio’s take on Egberto Gismonti’s “Baiao Malandro” is full of contrasts with lively, romping up tempo passages punctuated by more reflective episodes with Fisher making occasional use of the bow. Gordon describes Gismonti as “Brazilian pianist and genius”, he’s equally well known as a guitarist too.

“Chorinho” represents an attempt by Pat Metheny Group pianist and keyboard player Lyle Mays to write a piece in the Brazilian “chorinho” style, sometimes described as “Brazilian ragtime”. The tune first appeared as a solo performance on Mays’ 1988 album “Street Dreams”. In this version by the Gordon trio one can see where the ragtime comment came from with Gordon’s lively, choppy playing riding Cavaciuti’s pattering brushed drum grooves.

Bobby Capo’s “Piel Canela” is apparently a song about “cinnamon skin” and features the singing of the trio members. I can’t say that I’m particularly keen on this, it’s all a bit too bland and showbizzy for me, kind of 1960’s “Latin lite”. It does have the virtue of being brief and I should imagine that it could actually be rather fun in a live context.

“La Punalada”, written by Pintin Castellanos and arranged by Horacio Salgan translates as ” The Stab”. Gordon describes it as “classic milonga” and a “favourite of tango dancers”. The trio explore its rhythms and nuances with skill, verve and precision.

The Argentinian theme continues with “Bajo un sauce Iloron” written by the folklorist and singer Jorge Cafrune (1937-78).  Like Jara he was murdered by his country’s government. Gordon describes the song as “beautiful but intensely sad”, a description borne out by the lyrics, “I live in a poor farm under a weeping willow, which is watered in the evenings by my bleeding heart”. Gordon’s reflective, lyrical pianism is enhanced by Fisher’s supportive bass playing, including a sensitive solo passage, and Cavaciuti’s finely judged percussion shadings, his use of cymbals particularly effective.

It’s back to Brazil for “Deixa” written by Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes and arranged by Hamilton de Holanda. Gordon describes this as an “updated Brazilian ear-worm” and he’s right it is   essentially cheerful and catchy. Gordon and his colleagues update it by taking it into contemporary jazz piano trio territory with the pianist making use of the popular contemporary practice of string dampening. There are lots of interesting grooves and rhythmic ideas here and some terrific interplay between the trio members.

Gordon explores the music of another great South American folklorist on “Tonanda De La Luna Llena”. The Venezuelan singer, musician and actor was born in 1928 and unlike Jara and Cafrune has been honoured in his native country. This is a lovely song that finds the trio at their most impressionistic on an instrumental version of a song that includes such lyrics as ” I saw a heron fighting with the river: this is how your heart falls in love with mine”. The quiet, unhurried beauty of the music reflects the poetry inherent in the lyrics.

Finally we come to “Tico Tico no Fuba” by Zequinha de Abreu”, perhaps the most familiar melody on the album for English speaking listeners. Gordon acknowledges Italian pianist Stefano Bollani’s “daft” arrangement of this tune and announces that its his trio’s idea to make it “a bit dafter”. They certainly tackle the piece with spirit, good humour and considerable élan, maintaining a cracking pace throughout.

It’s a good way to an end an album that combines a genuine spirit of fun with a serious examination of Latin American song forms. Covering a formidable array of countries and music styles this is an impressive “grand tour” of Latin America with the mood of the pieces ranging from the joyous and celebratory to the sombre and pensive. The technical skills of the players are outstanding throughout and my only real quibble is with the vocal contributions but these hardly detract from the record as a whole.  Gordon’s notes talk of the possibilities of future “Speaks” projects and it is interesting to speculate about which region or musical culture he might choose to tackle next. In the meantime we have this very enjoyable album to sustain us.

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