“Jazz is not music, it is an attitude.” This is a saying by Miles Davis which Ray Lema has made his own, since it reflects his view of jazz performance.
Ray Lema does not consider himself a jazz man. He prefers a focus on his achievements as a composer of original music, presented through highly personal and deconstructed jazz. There is no attempt to imitate the American form of the music.
The music is emphatically carried by the spirit of his group, where friendship and careful listening lead to imaginative interplay. The group is coherent — each musician listens closely to the other, and plays with the other in every sense of the word. It is a melded tribute, where the bass and drums lay the foundation, the piano adds indispensable flourishes, and where the sax and trumpet take off in lyrical flight and heady, overlaying simultaneous melodic lines.
This album is a construct where the music flows freely, but in a precise direction, guided by the energy of the groove, the feel of the melody and a subtle harmonic seeking. The compositions are all original, and are written specifically for this exceptional multicultural quintet which, four years after their first release (VSPN), return with force and impact to the playground of the jazz greats.
If the title, Headbug, is taken to mean “wracking one’s brain,” it is not to define the whole of this fluid, limpid, extremely well-constructed album, but is rather simply a reflection of the eponymous first track, where Ray Lema in effect wracked his brain to find a coherent and efficient harmonic structure to magnify this piece’s particularly dynamic and lavish groove. This first track delves into a realm which will is found throughout the rich and varied album, where an irresistibly playful afro-beat can make room for beautiful and romantic ballads (Naab, Ulagaresh).
Among the treasures to be discovered — an African jazz carried by acrobatic rhythms, a playful wink at Brazil, by way of a creative revisiting of “Samba de Uma Nota So,” by Jobim; an unusual composition that marries funk and samba (Mira); a dense and multi-layered jazz number that finds a way to combine Afro-Cuban rhythms and French song (Mon Bel Amour); and an homage to the elder statesman, the big brother, the marabout of African music, Mr. Manu Dibango, impressive and unexpected on Marimba in “No Hiding.”
Headbug propels the jazz quintet beyond the beaten path, toward shores of musical forms and colors seldom explored, for a voyage to a lush countryside, where energy parallels poetry, in the best of all worlds. (Lionel Eskenazi)
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