Review ConcertoNet

Clarinettist Mariam Adam and pianist Evelyn Ulex are concert soloists and also director-performers of their own chamber group, TransAtlantic Ensemble, championing contemporary composers and so called ‘crossover’ works. They have just released Havana Moon exploring Latin chamber music from three living composers, Paquito D’Rivera, Miguel del Águila, Juan Pablo Jofre and compositions by the late, great Heitor Villa-Lobos, who died in 1959. Joining them on Havana Moon is Juan Pablo Jofre on bandoneón and violinist Liana Gourdija on selected tracks.

The Havana theme is the prism of musical range, but the selections have shared musical threads in compelling, sometimes near stealth fusions of jazz and classical rhythms. Adam is also a founding member of the dynamic woodwind chamber orchestra Imani Winds which also performs both classical and jazz music.

The jaunty “Chiquita Blues” and salon mystique of “Bandoneón” are the vibrant opening tracks by Paquito D’Rivera, two of four selections from The Cape Cod Filesthat bookend this recording. Next, Heitor Villa-Lobos’ New York Skyline Melody proves a haunting and agitated piano solo, painting a nourishing vista of ascending melodies that never looses sight of the ground. Later, Villa-Lobos’ lengthier piece Valsa da dor has quiet cinematic drama (and Satie-esque musings) that is masterfully essayed by Ulex.

Within Miguel del Águila’s’ Tango Trio violinist Liana Gourdjia drives the action with long string lines or those with sharp high note tango arrests. The precision of the trio features Gourdjia’s rich tones and Ulex’s cross-streams, and you can almost see the dancers burning the floor with those saber leg moves and arresting abrazo. Del Águila’s Nocturne for solo piano is an exemplar of the composer’s compositional fluency in both jazz and classical forms. On del Águila’s more abstract Silencethere is an arty instrumental piano and clarinet that is so stylistically different, but it’s just as entrancing.

D’Rivera’s Habanera contains a “Tango adagio” with exquisite Ravelean flavors that is performed with gorgeous clarity by Adam and Ulex. His Contradanza begins in a baroque classical piano motif and careens into jazz, then the dialogue expands to Cuban classicism. It’s a shame that this piece is just an interlude, especially with these players, because there is so much going on. Also, all too brief is the folkloric Vals Venezolano with Adam’s breathless clarinet lines sparring intricately with the piano.

Juan Pablo Jofre weighs in as a performer on his own compositions by playing the bandoneón. Sweet Dreams is a lullaby for clarinet where Jofre’s bandoneón makes the quietest soulful presence while the Primavera is a blooming musicale of Spring with Ulex, Adam and Jofre painting the musically vivid scene.

Two more selections from D’Rivera’s  The Cape Cod Filesround out the recording. First, Adam on an abstract clarinet solo piece “Lecuonerias” features diving trills and woodwind arabesques that gives it a wonderful improvisational feel. Second, the “Finale” is the bluesy Benny @ 100 with Adam paying homage to Benny Goodman’s indelible tone and Ulex swinging into boogie-woogie stride piano time.

Here, and throughout this recording, Evelyn Ulex’s and Mariam Adam’s chemistry is ever present in this beautifully engineered recording by Markus Mittermeyer. 

Lewis J. Whittington