Saturday, June 23, 2018

Alain Mallet - Mutt Slang (ETrain Records 2018)


“Mutt Slang came from the idea that so much of our music is the product of a unique mix of seemingly unconnected influences, when, in reality, they emanate from that untethered spiritual expanse that we all tap into” --Alain Mallet 

ALAIN MALLET has enjoyed a very successful career as a pianist and composer. He’s been a sideman for such high-profile acts as Madeleine Peyroux, Phil Woods, and Paul Simon, and his compositions have been recorded by jazz greats like Gary Burton, Dave Samuels, and Paquito D’Rivera, among many others. But until now, he’s never recorded his own CD as a leader. MUTT SLANG is a genre-bending, eclectic project suffused with the diverse cultural influences that have shaped Mallet’s musically adventurous spirit. 

Mallet was born in Andernos, a small French village not too far from Bordeaux. He was born with a birth defect that left him paralyzed on his left side for the first year of his life. Fortunately, the paralysis wasn’t permanent, but it did take a great deal of effort for him to gain complete mobility in his left arm. His father was an amateur pianist who loved jazz, and his parents started him on music lessons as a form of physical therapy. Despite the difficulty of playing the piano, he persevered, hoping someday to emulate his heroes Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner. By the time he was 16 years old, his disability was far behind him, and he had become a serious musician, playing in a band. He left France in 1983 to study at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and remained in the country to pursue a career in music. 

The music on MUTT SLANG reflects Mallet’s deep philosophical views on art and culture. “MUTT SLANG came from the idea that so much of our music is the product of a unique mix of seemingly unconnected influences, when, in reality, they emanate from that untethered spiritual expanse that we all tap into,” says Mallet. “It’s like an alternate consciousness which seems to supersede all other moral, racial, religious and political prejudices, as well as geographical boundaries. To be a musician means to unravel the mystery of a language spoken by only a handful, but seemingly understood by everyone. There is something incredibly powerful about that idea because it challenges the very concept of cultural purity, which is a myth. At the core of MUTT SLANG there’s a desire to rise above individual agendas to let the common consciousness prevail. It’s a multi-cultural transcendence of sorts.” 

Mallet says music on this project was influenced by Miles Davis’ 1958 sessions, Jacques Brel, the Globe Unity Orchestra, Peter Gabriel, Elis Regina, Keith Jarrett’s American quartet, Stevie Wonder, Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto, and Salif Keita, to name just a few. Indeed, from the opening tune “Till I Dance (In Your Arms Again),” which is written in 5/4 but still manages to have a tango feel, to “Road Signs,” an Israeli pop hit from the 70s and sung here in the original Hebrew, to “Salif,” a largely improvised tune that honors Salif Keita, an afro-pop singer-songwriter from Mali, Mallet takes the listener on a musical excursion that crosses geographical and cultural borders, revealing imaginative and unexpected landscapes of sound. 

The rhythm section on MUTT SLANG comprises some of the top players on the scene today, including veteran percussionist JAMEY HADDAD (Dave Liebman, Simon Shaheen, Paul Simon), bassist PETER SLAVOV (Joe Lovano), and drummer ABRAHAM ROUNDS (Meshell Ndegeocello, Seal). 

After touring with various artists for many years, Mallet had enough of being on the road and decided to return to teaching. As a professor in the ensemble and piano departments at Berklee, his alma mater, he interacts daily with the rising stars of jazz and decided to add their talents to this project. LAYTH SIDIQ, a violinist originally from Jordan, is featured on “Adama,” a song written by TALI RUBINSTEIN, who sings on this number and plays recorder on other tunes. She also wrote the tune “Alone.” SONG YI JEON, a singer and composer who hails from South Korea, wrote and sings on “Spring.” Also of note are VERONICA MORSCHER, an Austrian native who sings in Hebrew on “Alone,” SAMUEL BATISTA on alto sax, DANIEL ROTEM on tenor sax, JACOB MATHEUS on acoustic and electric guitars, LEANDRO PELLEGRINO who also plays electric guitar, NÊGAH, who is an incredible hand percussionist born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil, and GONZALO GRAU, a multi-instrumentalist from Caracas, Venezuela. 

MUTT SLANG is a two-CD set. The first CD is a standard, high quality, stereo recording. The second CD was engineered with additional audio channels for surround sound by ELLIOT SCHEINER, the music producer, mixer and engineer who has received 25 Grammy Award nominations, 8 of which he won, as well as several Emmy Awards, among other awards. According to Mallet, “Elliot had the idea to make a surround sound version of the music, and if someone of Elliot Scheiner’s stature has a suggestion, it probably behooves you to go along with it.” 

It has taken over 25 years as a busy musician for Mallet to finally decide it was time to put out his own CD and formulate a vision that would truly capture his own, unique voice and outlook. MUTT SLANG is a project that seemingly embraces the whole world, yet it’s articulated with a decidedly American jazz accent by a masterful pianist joined by a coterie of veteran and up-and-coming jazz luminaries.

1. Till I Dance (In Your Arms Again) (10:44)
2. Blessed Be The Empty Soul (8:47)
3. Road Signs (6:20)
4. Alone (1:52)
5. The Long Walk Home (Salif Prelude) (2:08)
6. Salif (8:16)
7. Adama (5:58)
8. Spring (8:53)
9. Elis (5:09)
10. BAtukAdA (1:12)
11. This Is When I Think About You (8:11)

PETER SLAVOV acoustic bass, solo (bonus track)
JAMEY HADDAD percussion, kanjira solo (3)
LAYTH SIDIQ violin, solo (7)
TALI RUBINSTEIN recorders, solo (2), lead vocal (7), vox (3)
SONG YI JEON lead vocals, voice solo (8)
VERONICA MORSCHER trans-oceanic lead vocal (3)
SAMUEL BATISTA alto sax, solo (1)
DANIEL ROTEM  tenor sax, solos (6)(11)
JACOB MATHEUS  acoustic guitar (1), electric guitar (2,3,7,8,10)
LEANDRO PELLEGRINO electric  guitar (1,6,9) solos (1,6)
NÊGAH pandeiro (1) congas (5)
GONZALO GRAU  xekere (6)