JP Balcázar (bass)
Marco Mezquida (piano)
Carlos Falanga (drums)
Carola Ortiz (voice, clarinet)
Sometimes, I think it might be easier to list the Barcelona musical ensembles that don’t feature Juan Pablo Balcázar (or JpB as he’s otherwise known). From swinging jazz to Portuguese songstering to edgy hip-hop, he’s pretty ubiquitous. This evening featured a kind of cross-pollination of two of his line ups. the JpBalcazar Trio (who recently received a 4-star review from Brian Morton in Jazz Journal for their disc, “Reversible”) and Minimal Hits, his pop cover duo with singer/clarinetist Carola Ortiz.
So, what does this combination sound like? Well, rather nice actually – sweet, emotive, very occasionally edgy, and above all, lyrical and lush. That’s enough adjectives for now. If I was to venture a couple of small churlish criticisms, it would be that the quartet has yet to properly gel (I enjoyed the individual contributions, but they didn’t always perform ‘as one’ – hardly surprising given it was the first time they’d all played together) and the volume of Falanga’s drums could be taken down a notch in the cramped venue (tricky, I know – sorry, Carlos!) But that aside, when it worked (and for me, it often did) it really worked.
Take the opener, a version of Nature Boy, first popularised in 1948 by Nat King Cole. The delicate introductory melody picked out by the bass, a subtle touch of percussion here, piano there, and Ortiz’s voice totally at home in a tune nearly seven decades old – when she sings, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return,” you believe her. Ortiz has great control, expressive phrasing, often injects a hint of wry or cheeky humour, and her voice seems just a little more sultry than when I last saw her perform a year or so ago. Incidentally, I also noticed how Mezquida utilised a few of his more avant/improv techniques (hands inside the piano rather than on the keys) while staying completely within the classic spirit of the song – nice!
The other two highlights were a Castellano version of Comes Love, smoothly translated to its new linguistic setting with the gorgeous melody intact and even enhanced a little (was that a hint of bossa nova?) and Tanta Saudade… Now, given my earlier criticism, it’s only fair to say that on this Djavan song – sung with real passion, by the way – the percussion was perfect: balanced, driving and subtle, with a sense of emotion threatening to overwhelm (which it did, in the form of a brief, body-grabbing drum solo)… more, please.
And more is what’s needed. Because the more of this that takes place, the closer the quartet will knit together, and then I won’t be bothering with taking notes, I’ll just be lying back and smiling, as if in a warm, warm bath.