"LehCats: Movement to Egalitaria.
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." -Fred Kellogg of KAOS 89.3 FM Olympia, WA.
"LEHCATS/Movement to Egalitaria: I thought records like this only got made with grants from somewhere. Is it world? Is it fusion? Is it mind blowing? Yes across the board. With a guest list that the unlimited space afforded by thumb drives was created for, this set is well on it's way to being a standard bearer that future dates are going to have to measure up against. Not for those who don't want to disrupt the status quo, this is a fine slice of tomorrow today.…" -Midwest Records
"Heat loving, sun seeking chachinos, smile for the camera, feel your red platelets gliding, it's always a beautiful day with Soul Cha Cha in your blood." -Fiona Ord-Shrimpton, All About Jazz
"It would be great if more fusion music was this diverse. I find that so much of the ‘fusion’ out there by the big-name ‘fusion’ acts still out there sound very much the same as they’ve been doing for nearly 40 years. In other words-it hasn’t evolved too much yet. You’ve done the music a huge favor by writing diverse, interesting, unexpected good music in that vein. For whatever is left of the fusion genre." ... -Paul Hanson, Grammy Nominated Jazz Bassoonist and Composer
'"LOST AND FOUND' is well arranged with great musicianship. Reggae music is hard to resist and here too, 'JAMAICA EXPRESS' is pulling you in with the great feel. I loved the soft caressing sound of 'TACOMA RAIN' really exquisite and the extravaganza dished out in 'NATIONS AND RESTORATION'! Stunning album!..." -Wouter Kellerman
"Norbert Stachel and his wife Karen along with the other talented musicians who make up the band LehCats are in their element with this marvelous album. Some of the tracks I especially loved are "Slow March to the Showers of No Return" is somber and heavy piece that mesmerized. "Lost and Found" is a folk sounding track with a great flute performance. "Can You Share a Moment" is a joyous and the piccolo in this track is so very well played :-) The Flute in contrast provides a husky, very earthy sound....loved it! "Tacoma Rain" with its ambient sounds is another wonderful composition and the romance of the track just wrapped its cloak around me :-). "Midtown Madness" has a frantic pace to it, the winding melody captivating. Stachel's saxophone improvisations are magnificent! Another track I'd like to mention here is "Just Cause", the piano is wonderful and tenor saxophone and flute are blended into a gorgeous amalgam :-). Out of the Bag is a jazz musician's dream come true. The compositions are all fantastic and the production of this album is exceptional :-):-) :-)'" -Ricky Kej 2015 Grammy Award Winner Best World Music Album