Jazzman’s new CD ‘Limpopo’ is quite a trip
Listening to Niall McGuinness & the New World Jazz Project’s CD “Limpopo” is like taking a trip around the world.
Flavors of Africa, Portugal, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and the Southern California coast are evident in a variety of jazz motifs ranging from smooth adult contemporary to hard bop. Worldwide travel was the inspiration for the album’s 10 songs, seven being McGuinness originals.
“One’s creativity is divined from one’s experience, and when you travel around, that’s a big part of that experience,” McGuinness said. “That can be quite a seedbed for musical inspiration.”
McGuinness, by day a second-grade teacher at Sierra House School, has been working professionally in music for 30 years. The saxophonist-flutist-percussionist previously recorded with the Tahoe acoustic trio Bodhi Tree. “Limpopo” is his first individual album.
“It’s a milestone that I’ve postponed for too long,” said McGuinness, who surrounded himself from talented jazzmen from the region. “But by postponing it, I had more original material from which to choose.”
McGuinness recorded “Limpopo” in the fall at Reno’s Sierra Sonics Recording Mansion, which numerous big-name artists, including Willie Nelson, Diana Ross, Steve Vai and Thomas Dolby, have used. The spacious studio has a state-of-the-art analog Solid State Logic board made in Oxford, England, a Neumann U67 microphone and an acoustic Kawai grand piano, played by one of the stars of the album, 23-year-old musical phenom Tristan Selzler.
“Tristan was a fearless burner in the studio,” McGuinness said. “He’s a young cat who doesn’t play it safe. He had a dynamite solo on ‘El Sueño.’ “
Selzler shared keyboard duties with Kris Landrum, who played an electric Rhodes.
“Kris plays a more subdued role, but it’s very tasty and totally in the genre I was shooting for,” McGuinness said.
The rhythm section was drummers Neil Strocchio and the South Shore’s Eric Finkelstein, bassist Kyle Rothchild and Eric Middleton, percussion director of the Reno Philharmonic, whose performance on congas, bongos and shekere added world spice to “Limpopo.”
“It’s a pleasure to work on an album full of original material,” Finkelstein said. “It’s honest in that it wasn’t edited to death.”
Here’s a look at the 10 songs:
The title track is named for the river separating South Africa and Mozambique, which McGuinness and his “soul mate” Mary once crossed on an adventuresome trip. Moreover, the song is an upbeat way to introduce the album. The soprano saxophone in a major key evokes a happy feeling of travel, and the shekere made by Gail Finkelstein, which appears on the CD cover, adds to its African delivery. Finkelstein picked up the gourd to make the instrument at Folsom’s Zittel Farms.
‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’
McGuinness’ instrumental version contrasts the song first recorded by Diana Washington in 1955, and covered by Billie Holiday and Warren Zevon. McGuinness sings the lyrics through his alto sax, a method he usually employs on vocally led tunes.
McGuinness plays tenor in honor of a memorable February sunset at Laguna Beach. Snow-locked Tahoe residents with wanderlust can relate.
Nat Adderley wrote this song when playing with his brother Cannonball, Lionel Hampton and J.J. Johnson, and it led the way to the soul-jazz genre, along with trumpeter Lee Morgan and his song “Sidewinder.” “Jive Samba” hit the pop charts in 1964, practically unheard-of for a jazz song.
This Latin lick featuring the flute and Middleton’s congas goes back to the days of McGuinness’ youth, growing up and later driving a cab for 10 years and earning a degree from the University of Miami. “Flute is an intricate part of Latin music, especially Latin jazz,” McGuinness said. “You’ve got the freedom to improvise but have the percussion to hold the audience. With Latin jazz, (percussion) is that rhythmic pillar for the audience to hold on to.”
“Estrada do Sol.”
This Portuguese song featuring tenor sax is so obscure, McGuinness said his is the only recorded version he knows of. Although he didn’t write it, McGuinness says it a definitive track: “I was able to play this tune and hear this tune and say, ‘Yes, that’s me.'”
“Wait a Minute”
This one’s bebop. When McGuinness went to London on a Fulbright scholarship in 2002-03 to teach third grade, he packed all of his horns and a tuxedo. “I thought I was going to break out over there,” he said. “But I didn’t have time. I lived right outside a busy thoroughfare with cars going day and night. It was such an opposite feel from Lake Tahoe.” He wrote the song in his London flat. A frenzied pace conveyed is the most upbeat song on the album.
“Call of the Tucan”
McGuinness was backpacking in Costa Rica when he heard this melody from a toucan, the first he had seen outside of an aviary. Like “Estrada do Sol” and “Laguna Sunday,” it a percussion-rich tune. Also listen for the samba whistle.
Nearly all of the solos on the album are first takes, and this one is no exception. Selzler takes off first, followed by Eric Finkelstein. “That’s what jazz is all about — to make a cohesive statement extemporaneously,” the polysyllabic sax player said.
This classic Latin cha-cha-cha song is a homage to flutist Dave Valentine. “It’s like you’re walking down the street,” McGuinness said. “It’s that kind of tempo. It’s relaxed. You’re not really going anywhere because you’re already there.” The closing song remains constant with the world flavor; this one’s from Puerto Rico. It feels contemplative, which is appropriate. After all, we’ve just circled the globe in about 70 minutes.
CD release party
For Niall McGuinness & the New World Jazz Project’s “Limpopo”
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 21-22
Where: The Fresh Ketch in the Tahoe Keys
Reno release party: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 28-28 at the Wild River Grille, 17 S. Virginia Street