Wednesday, October 17, 2012

La Lucha Nails It

Album cover photo - "Eruption of the Popocatepti Volcano" - John O'Leary

La Lucha - La Lucha

In case you haven't noticed - PC Jazz only reviews albums we like.
(Why waste time?) There's a concerted effort made to keep album reviews brief - very hard to do when you are excited about the music, and nearly impossible in this case. If you're looking for the short version, here it is: you must go out and buy this album. You won't want to miss it; and we wouldn't steer you wrong!

The bio: La Lucha is a Tampa-area based piano trio with members from 3 different countries (Columbia, Mexico & United States). Alejandro Arenas - bass, Mark Feinman - drums, John O'Leary - piano. They've many accolades including the Umbria Jazz Festival, a grant from Hampton Arts Management and a commission from American Stage. This is their second release. 

The aesthetics: "to create music that transcends genres and classifications". La Lucha is not the first jazz act to 'jazzify' music by current (or older) pop acts; nor is this their only output (very fine originals and a bright "Stella by Starlight" also grace the cd). The difference being that they are so incredibly successful at doing it; the results are so dang pleasing and often surprising, that one instantly embraces their ideas, and fans are won quickly (the first run of the cd sold out within a few months - rare in jazz!).

The music: John Lennon's "I'm So Tired" opens the album & sums up neatly the aesthetics of the band - simple production, stark emotion, tongue-in-cheek melodrama, bittersweet piano, organic meter changes and a trio very frequently functioning as one. The addition of vocalist Jun Bustamente is nothing short of genius - her broad range; warm, wonderful tone and conviction (with a grand sense of irony) are entirely perfect for this project, and frankly - indispensable. As an instrumental, No Doubt's "Don't Speak" becomes a rhapsodic jazz saga, showcasing O'Leary's subtle style and skill, suddenly breaking down into naked, gritty funk with both bass & piano endowed with fascinating electronic processing. More importantly, these boys can play! Attention to detail in the arranging is also a high mark.

Saxophonist Austin Vickrey joins the trio for both originals and "Stella", his tenor sound is clear with enough bite (a la Brecker); adding a welcome new color, some extra fire and a chance for the arrangements to expand in depth. The latin "La Migra" airs out some refined and modern compositional abilities from Feinman & Arenas, the melodies stand up well next to all the familiar tunes.

Other highlights include the Beach Boys' "Dont Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder", an exquisite rendering with Bustamante and trio giving a hear-a-pin-drop, edge-of-your-seat performance. Seriously, you need to hear this.

"Papparazzi" (Lady Gaga) is stunning and dramatic, putty in La Lucha's hands; another must hear (see video below). The groove from Feinman & Arenas is first-rate, and O'Leary responds every step of the way. The bass solo is gorgeous. (ps - this album is well recorded, mixed and produced.)

A jazz version of Britney Spears is laughable. Of course it is! La Lucha have nailed it twice - this time around it's a delightfully re-harmonized "Oops...I Did It Again". Bustamante magnificently laments, moans and croons her social faux pas, almost Shirley Bassey-esque, all flirt; while slinky bass lines & film noir jazz creep and crawl under her. It will change your thoughts about the song, (surely their goal).

A lot of great jazz albums have come our way this year, and labeling one 'the best' can't be done. If you're looking for jazz that's essential; both stimulating and easy on the ears; an album that will satisfy nearly every age group - this might be the best album in decades. - PC Jazz

places you can get a copy:
CD Baby

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