The 21st century Southwest urban sound - a fusion of world influences with a rock foundation, jazz sprinkling, and an 'out-west' freedom of form - welcomes innovations from new centers and immigrants, both rural and urban. Executive producer Jean-Pierre Levesque, in putting this album together, was fascinated by the idea of an evolving southwest urban sound, especially from Phoenix, a city emerging as the fifth largest in the United States. A haven for new immigrants from Latin America, Asia, Europe, and Africa, the city has been transformed into a multi-cultural metropolis where international music is commonplace.
Some Phoenician jazz background: legends Art and Addison Farmer grew up there in the 1950s and 60s. Though their early styles are more closely associated with the Los Angeles sound, their versatility has remains an inspiration for subsequent generations. Art Farmer's transitional ease into the genre of classical caught JP Levesque's attention. He passionately convinced Nokuthula Ngwenyama and Michael Long, artists known primarily in the classical field, to explore this novel idea with cutting-edge vocalist Vome and drummer Dan Tomlinson.
The session convened in the West Phoenix industrial district around the intersection of 27th Avenue and Grand. Dan Tomlinson's rock inspired foundation melded with the rhythm and lyricism of Michael Long's guitar, Nokuthula Ngwenyama's sculpted lines and, later, Vome's driving vocals. The first track, Planet 70, is in three large sections. It begins with a pensive guitar introduction, followed by a brooding lounge-like mood with the melody performed on the deeper viola. All instruments in the session were recorded acoustically, thus creating a sonic intimacy without amplification. Following the lounge section the song picks up tempo and receives a true infusion of funk. Long lays down a hard rhythm guitar, and the viola serves up riffs reminiscent of Memphis horn grooves. Planet 70's third section winds down wth hypnotic variant scale-like patterns and brisk arpeggiations in the guitar. The drums fade to cymbals, and guitar frames the piece.
Buyani-bo opens with a brief call on the violin, introducing Vome's first appearance on the album. Dedicated to building bridges between Francophone and southern Africa she melds the following Zulu - French lyrics and vocables into her own Esperanto:
Buyani-bo You (pl.) come over here!
Buyani Come over here!
Ecoutez umculo - buyani Listen to the music - come over here!
Uyathanda na? Do you like it?
Uyathanda umculo You like music.
Les nuages The clouds
The combination of Vome's vocals with mellow instrumental accompaniment creates an alternative world sound and true fusion of musical influences.
Michael Long takes a solo in Armandos, bringing his beautiful acoustic tone and intimate Spanish flair to the album. He sets the stage for an exciting interchange between the violin and drums in the title track 27th & Grand. Instead of serving a melodic role, the violin interjects strong rhythmic impulses entwined with Dan Tomlinson's hard beat. The industrial edge and clamor of traffic and trains are readily apparent. After a guitar interlude, the viola drives a melodic line, galvanizing the trio toward a strong finish.
Some Stuff pays hommage to the great jazz violinist Stuff Smith. Exposed to his music in Los Angeles, his style, soul, and grit left a large impact on the young Ngwenyama. The most standard jazz-inspired track on the album, she combines the lyrical and rhythmic elements of her instrument to deliver a fitting tribute.
The first section of Brusquement features a string melodic solo line with rhythmic impulses provided by left-hand pizzicato. The second section comes when the guitar and drums suddenly change the atmosphere. Short and compact, the track rhythmically drives to a quick finish.
No session would be complete without a drum solo. Dan Tomlinson provides just that and more in Diminuendo. His all-stops out performance says it all, showing incredible control and restraint as he puts the cherry on top. Caravana opens with a theme evoking scenes from a tropical Latin American beachside resort but quickly evolves into a rock driven version of Caravan. Vome, singing again in punctuated vocables, nicely contrasts the "asian flower blooming" line interjected by the violin, wandering harmonies of the guitar, and charged performance on drums. The ensemble highlights Latin elements and a Middle Eastern inspiration already infused into this "desert" melody.
By far the most avant-garde selection, we've saved the best for last. Entitled Selva, the percussive effects achieved on all instruments mimic the cocophony of the equatorial jungles of South America. Reminiscent of 1970s free-form, the artists have discarded all inhibitions. Wood against wood, Brazilian harmonies in the guitar, free and organic in form, this performance imitates the organized chaos of the rainforest. Highly-pitched tones masking runs are achieved by threading paper through the strings of the instrument and bowing normally. Extremely cutting edge, these musicians capture the essence of Mother Nature in her fury and glory.
- Arianne Levesque