LehCats: Movement to Egalitaria. By Fred Kellogg of KAOS 89.3 FM Olympia, WA.
Although you may not know it Latin Jazz is making a rebound. It is on the up-and-up.
In 2011, for example, the Grammys doing away with the category of ‘Best Latin Jazz’ caused an uproar within the music industry. Many cried loud and hard and the award was reinstated a year later. In 2017, the industry seemed to balk at more recent developments within the genre, choosing instead to recognize older, established artist’s, such as pianist Chucho Valdes-who founded the legendary latin jazz band Irakere, bassist Andy Gonzalez, and trombonist Wayne Wallace.
So much for the Grammys. While those named above were trailblazers in their own right, each is over 60. They represented an earlier era and sound which would be considered classic Latin Jazz. But like other jazz sub-genres I have heard lately, Latin jazz has become a backbone, a caldron in which many other elements have been blended.
One possible reason? When a soloist performs, much of the shape of his/her improvisations is determined by the rhythm. The basic 4/4 jazz rhythm will cause a different kind of movement than, say, a samba or a bomba. This process is expertly executed in the work of Karen & Norbert Stachel-better known as LehCats (an anagram for Stachel)- on their recent CD Movement to Egalitaria.
Such is the case with many pieces on this CD, including the opening selection Soul Cha-Cha. The sixteen bar melody-with Karen featured on piccolo recalling the early Hubert Laws-gives way to series of loose yet deliberate exchanges between Karen and bassist Ricky Encarnacion. This track also proves that the use of the piccolo has reached the projection Laws made in 1965 that ‘despite its small size…the piccolo will someday give the flute some real competition’.
Title track Movement to Egalitaria, sets forth a political/cultural goal of an egalitarian vision. Beginning with a dark mood, almost M-Base in its structure suggesting a current dark, hopeless world for many of us, the tune moves into more festive, upbeat traditional Latin Rhythms.
Karen’s telling vocals are featured on Sunshine. Her affection comes through despite some lacking vocal technique. A short, at times perpendicular piano solo from Edsel Gomez follows, then another change in rhythm gives Norbert-on Tenor- the opportunity to exchange breaks with his wife on piccolo. His Brecker-ish tone is contemporary, but not ‘smooth’.
Doppler Effect is something else again. Though the rhythm is traditional, long melodic statements are backed by electric bass and guitar which suggest the influence of fusion, if not heavy metal. Mike Stern-one of several top-drawer players on the date-has a powerful solo. He is, of course, a fusion veteran having worked with Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius and others.
Mandela is another tune of contrasting moods: Down and yet celebratory in this, the 100th anniversary of the great South African activist, prison detainee and president.
The appropriately titled 9 lives (shouldn’t it be 18?) is tune that is in straight 4/4 time. Karen’s mysterious and sultry- quasi-scat vocals dubbed in unison with her flute playing is a most effective contrast to the feel of the other selections. Then Gomez plays a solo which tiptoes around his influences, Hancock and Tyner, yet is artistically original enough to be called his own. Norbert then executes a rare feat: A bass flute solo. The use of the upper register of the instrument makes me wonder why he did not use an alto or C flute. Perhaps the timbre plus the contrasting, occasional use of the lower register of the instrument is why. A thematic interlude is followed by brief solo by guitarist Bob Lanzetti which takes out the tune. His tone-in contrast to Stern-is that of a traditional jazz guitarist, such as Kenny Burrell or Grant Green.
Shifting rhythms and a dynamic solo by Norbert-at times reminiscent of Lenny Pickett-characterize Step On It. The tune ends on an unresolved tonic.
Celia’s Bomba features a solo by Karen which is more reminiscent of the sound of the ‘60’s-at least to my ears. Its changing rhythms, however, are ear catching and perhaps stylistically more contemporary.
Goodbye Elgin Park-again a more traditional jazz tune in 4-is a warm vocal ballad sung by Karen. It makes compelling use of devices which make traditional jazz ballads romantic, but not saccharine: Blues, swing, dissonance and fine solos by pianist Gomez and veteran N.Y. bassist, Peter Washington. Master drummer Lenny White-late of 70’s fusion band Return to Forever, but also more traditional/modern jazz artist’s Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson- is on hand.
Meshugaza has a compelling eastern sound and a propulsion which gives it a quasi-radical quality. Pianist Gary Fisher explores several different harmonic directions in his short, but compelling solo. Gimmick-free use of effects characterize the solo by guitarist Will Bernard.
The CD closes with the syncopated rhythm-horn interaction of Mopar’s Song, a decidedly traditional Latin rhythm; yet more contemporary melodically and thematically.
Some have recently suggested that Latin Jazz has a surge in creativity because of looser, pure and less academic sounding quality than traditional jazz. While this may be true, Mr. & Mrs. Stachel prove on Movement to Egalitaria that when one blends the virtues of ethnic purity, virtuoso musicianship and mix those in the caldron with a variety of classic and contemporary ideas to support a vision of hope, the future of Latin Jazz can only be a bright one.
Movement to Egalitaria
Produced by: Karen Stachel and Norbert Stachel
Produced at: Purple Room Studio
Engineered, Mixed and Mastered by: Norbert Stachel
Photography and Graphic Design by: Christopher Drukker
?Liner Notes by Kabir Sehgal
Movement to Egalitaria is a forward-looking opus which will provoke and enchant you at the same time. These eleven tracks are composed, arranged, and performed with many tones and hues, ultimately rendering a beautiful landscape, a soundtrack of what the world could be. LehCats (Karen Stachel and Norbert Stachel) have delivered a fiercely intelligent and groundbreaking production that isn’t just a musical contribution but a cultural one, in which listeners can meditate on the state of their souls. This album is indeed “aural literature” which you can revisit time after time, and you’ll hear something differently, as the rhythm and unfolding chords envelop you, from neck and shoulders, to ankle and toe. This album will move you.
The piece “The National Anthem of Egalitaria” is about a mythic perhaps utopian place where everyone can live together – no matter their ethnicities, backgrounds, origins, races, religion, or education level. It’s in this place, that everyone is equal and welcome. To be sure, this song is about hope. But hope isn’t just an imaginary place, it’s manifest in the mesmerizing music which features the likes of Yunior Terry (shekere), Karen Stachel (C and Alto flutes, piccolo), Norbert Stachel (bass clarinet, tenor and alto saxophones, ney, ocarina, surnai), among others. “Meshugaza” mashes the Yiddish word “meshuga” that means “crazy” with “Gaza,” the area in the Middle East which has been the source of great conflict. The composers surely haven’t shied away from controversy, as they wrote this piece as an appeal to all Semitic people to realize their common ancestry. It’s their hope that in hearing this music, more will hear the commonality of harmonic language and culture, and ultimately turn away from violence and towards the path of peace. On this track, we hear the vibrant performances of Elizabeth Schwartz (vocals) Yale Strom (violin) (Elizabeth and Yale are also married), Melissa Rondon (pandeiro), and Dan Gonzalez (drums, darbuka, and djembe) among others. ??“Sunshine” The melody and lyrics came to Karen in a dream. Some people dream in prose, Karen dreams in poetry and songs. After inspiration flashed, she woke up and recorded the song. This piece is perfectly named as it’s brought to life with a luminous piano solo by Edsel Gomez who infuses the piece with ebullience.
“Soul Cha Cha” reaches back into 1970s funk with a canyon deep groove. Composed by Norbert, he melds funk, soul, and Latin that pervaded the Bay Area. It features Peter Escovedo (guiro) and Peter Michael Escovedo (timbales and cowbells) whose performances make you want to dance away any bad feelings. Ricky Encarnacion’s electric bass lines are performed and placed with aplomb. ??“Doppler Effect” This rendition features Michael Stern on guitar. It is surely a fusion sound that draws upon Classical and Middle Eastern melodies. The piece builds gradually, as you hear many dimensions enveloping and passing you by, which yields a Doppler effect feeling. You better jump aboard this musical movement because it may pass you by. “Mopar’s Song” also inspired by the Latin beats and grooves of the Bay Area, this piece is ultimately an honorific to the memory of Norbert and Karen’s cat Mopar, which moved with the couple from San Francisco to New York in 2002.
“Celia’s Bomba” was composed after they had watched the television miniseries “Celia” about Celia Cruz. This song bubbled up in Karen’s dream to the rhythm of the bomba. Again, after waking up, Karen recorded this magnificent piece that is woven into a bridge which Norbert wrote. This piece features a veritable cast of musical all stars such as Axel Laugart (piano), Renato Thoms (tamborim, shaker, pandeiro), and others. “Mandela” is an eponymous tribute to the South African leader Nelson Mandela. The piece fuses Afro-Brazilian rhythms and intriguing jazz harmonies. Stachel wrote this piece to celebrate and dramatize the fact that an honest and upright person can run a country, while also improving the lives of others.
“Goodbye Elgin Park” was composed by Norbert and arranged by Karen, who also penned the lyrics, and is about a small apartment in San Francisco where she lived. She thought of this place as a refuge, a place to heal, where she felt at home. It was a place in which she grew and ultimately outgrew. There are homes for different stages in our life and they hold a special place in our hearts as does Elgin Park.
“9 Lives” was the theme song for a film. Indeed, the piece has a Henry Mancini vibe. Norbert reworked the piece, giving it (ahem) new life. With maestro Stachel on the case, he can rescue and enliven without compunction! “Step On It” is also a composition of Stachel’s which highlights the eccentricities of the Bay Area melting pot. The track is a personal reminder for Stachel to “step on it” and not be late to gigs or performances. With this track, he wants to send the message that it’s wise to plan ahead. But when you’re running late, that can generate an explosion of creativity and energy. Father and son team, John and Francis Benitez graced us with their talents.
Movement to Egalitaria is a line in the sand. Any jazz fusion recordings that are released in the future will be compared to this album. Karen Stachel and Norbert Stachel have delivered an epic and energetic production for the ages. They have poured their hearts and souls into creating something that will stand the test of time – not just because of its brilliant virtuosity – but because this album has vision and integrity. It stands for something.
--Kabir Sehgal?New York Times bestselling author?Multi-GRAMMY Award Winner
- Karen Stachel flutes & vocal
- Norbert Stachel reeds & flutes
- Nanny Assis brazilian percussion
- Francis Benitez drums
- John Benitez acoustic & electric bass
- Will Bernard guitar
- Ivan Bodley acoustic bass
- Chris Biesterfeldt guitar
- Carlos Chong guitar
- Walfredo De Los Reyes Jr. drums
- Ricky Encarnacion electric bass
- Pete Escovedo percussion
- Peter Michael Escovedo percussion
- Gary Fisher piano
- Richie Flores congas & percussion
- Edsel Gomez piano
- Dan Gonzalez drums & percussion
- Siavash Haghtalab iranian hand percussion
- Bob Lanzetti guitar
- Axel Laugart piano
- Ray Obiedo guitar
- Mike O’Brien acoustic bass
- Lonnie Plaxico acoustic & electric bass
- Melissa Rodnon pandeiro
- Elizabeth Schwartz vocal
- Dave Solomon guitar
- Mike Stern guitar
- Yale Strom violin
- Yunior Terry shekeres
- Renato Thoms urdu & percussion
- Peter Washington acoustic bass
- Lenny White drums
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