John Stein has always been, at least in musical terms, something of an international traveler. His long-time drummer and musical collaborator, Zé Eduardo Nazario, is a legend in his native Brazil, and customarily gives Stein’s work “um sabor Brasileiro,” a Brazilian flavor.
In keeping with the global undercurrent of his work, Stein partners this time with another drummer — Matias Mingote German, native of Argentina now living in Spain. Mingo lives and breathes tango, but is obsessed with fusing his native Afro-Argentinian rhythms and grooves with jazz, klezmer, and other styles of music. For his part, Stein had been dabbling in Latin styles for the better part of his career, which includes nearly a dozen albums of his own and many guest appearances supporting a who’s who of jazz luminaries.
Stein’s partnership with Mingo provides each musician an opportunity to work with a simpatico talent, with mutual interest in hybrid jazz genres, and with whom they could stretch their own Latin vernaculars into even more exhilarating places. The Mingotan Project, created to explore the fusion of these musical styles, derives its name from a blend of Mingo’s nickname and his favorite musical form — tango.
Certainly, it takes at least two, but preferably more, to tango, so the leaders joined forces with wonderful musicians to bring their ideas to life. Rebecca Kleinmann plays flutes, Evan Harlan handles the accordion, and John Lockwood, a longtime colleague of Stein’s, does his typically sublime job on acoustic bass.
With musical arrangements by the two leaders, produced by Stein, and recorded, mixed, and mastered at PBS by Peter Kontrimas, the ten songs on Emotion demonstrate a fusion of North American jazz with the powerful emotion and rhythms of Afro-Argentinian tango styles, a collaboration between artists of different cultures but similar creative visions. Mingo’s drumming is mature, fluid, and authentically rooted in tradition. Stein’s guitar sings melodically, every phrase emanating from his musical soul, not simply falling off of his fingers. Kleinmann, Harlan, and Lockwood play with taste and finesse. All the contributions are virtuosic, yet always in the service of the musical whole.
Taken together, on songs like Stein’s “Julieta,” “Recoleta,” and “Empanadas,” Mingo’s “Biei,” North American standards like “I Thought About You,” or Piazzola’s “Oblivion” to close the recording, the collection is a modern musing on age-old, time-tested forms. The music succeeds deeply on multiple levels — fabulous musical interplay among mature musicians; memorable melody, harmony, rhythm, and form; and direct, powerful emotional connection to an audience. This is music that lingers in the mind and heart of the listener long after the notes fade . . .
Whaling City Sound, the label behind it all, manages to put another, eminently important entry into its growing canon of high quality jazz recordings.