Oct 7, 2011
“Our experiences and encounters are sometime brief, sometimes magical and fleeting, but the images and feelings from these encounters always go deep into our hearts and create lasting memories. This is the place where I find music. ”- Vince Mendoza.
Vince Mendoza’s Nights on Earth is, simply put, one of this year’s finest jazz releases. Best known of late as a Grammy Award winning arranger and conductor of other people’s songs for other people’s albums (Joni Mitchell’s Travelogue and Both Sides Now; CDs from Bjork, Sting and Melody Gardot), Mendoza has written and recorded his own work after a thirteen year hiatus. It was worth the wait.
At least part of the success of Nights on Earth comes from the all-star cast of musicians Mendoza has assembled to perform these orchestrated gems. Few could call upon a cast that includes guitarists John Abercrombie, John Scofield and Nguyen Le, drummers Peter Erskine and Greg Hutchinson, percussionist Luis Conte, organist Larry Goldings, steel drummer Andy Narell, pianists Kenny Werner and Alan Pasqua, bassist Christian McBride, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and saxophonists Bob Mintzer and Joe Lovano. Add in members of the Metropole Orkest, the Dutch ensemble that Mendoza has conducted for the past six years, and a dream scenario has been set.
These players are all in fine form, but the moody, evocative compositions are what makes the recording worthy of repeat listenings. Although only 5 of the 12 tracks are truly “orchestral” in nature, there is an underlying texture on the recordings that brings forth a mood that is sometimes lush, always evocative. Vocals (by Luciana Souza on “Ao Mar” and Lorraine Perry on “Gracias”) and the occasional programmed synthesizer (“Beauty and Sadness”) add further touches of sonic color to the mix.
Tracks like “Poem of The Moon” benefit from strings and Marcia Dickinson’s harp, allowing standouts solos from Scofield and flutist Jim Walker to soar. McBride plays a mean bass underneath it all. The orchestrations never bury anyone’s sound in the mix, but rather serve to create a musical canvas upon which they can express themselves.
“Ao Mar” rides on Brazilian guitar legend Romero Lubambo’s acoustic playing, supplemented by Akinmusire’s trumpet solo and Scofield’s mellow electric guitar. I saw Lubambo and Souza play a remarkable acoustic duo set at the Detroit Jazz Festival last month, and this performance is the equal of anything they did that day. At times this track recalls Pat Metheny’s work with Nana Vasconcelos in the early Eighties, but with a deft rather than driving touch. "Shekere" adds vocalist/kora player Tom Diakite for a memorable world music spin.
All in all, Nights on Earth is an introspective, superbly composed and executed work that again shows why Vince Mendoza is a true musical puzzle master, arranging the pieces, applying the right touches, and delivering musical pictures of beauty.