PRAISE FOR "BRAND NEW"
PRAISE FOR “PLAY DOH”
PRAISE FOR "PLAY DOH"
AUGUST 4, 2019BY SAMMY STEIN
Carmen Sandim is a pianist and composer residing in Boulder but originally from Sao Paulo. She graduated from Berklee in 2000 and moved to Colorado, where she formed a close relationship with her mentor, New York pianist Art Lande. Through Lande but also her own initiatives, Carmen Sandim has forged a network of associations in the area around Boulder. She is an educator at both the Metropolitan State University of Denver and the University of Colorado at Denver.
Play Doh is an album which brings many differing styles together, and yet somehow they become simply Sandim’s style. She merges essences from jungle-influenced overtones to modern jazz and traditional Brazilian themes. Having spent a year in South America and been subjected to the uniqueness of jazz there, the album proved intriguing. Carmen is surrounded here by musicians including Shane Endsley on trumpet, Bruce Williamson on reeds Alex Heitlinger on trombone, Khabu Doug on guitar, Bill McCrossen on bass and Dru Heller on drums.
Due on October 25, 2019 via Ropeadope Records, the album opens with “Aruru Juju,” which is playful and the first section builds around a series of short ascensions. These gradually fade as the rest of the band emerges across the top and the piece develops several different accents and moods, including a beautiful piano-led section which flute answers. Shane Endsley’s trumpet then leads the group back to the original motifs, which are picked up by Sandim’s piano and developed further. Over seven minutes of music, the mood and emphasis changes, swaps back and reverts again with some impressive improvisations around the themes. The trombone and trumpet solos are quirky and very well executed, and the support is tight as a gnat’s fist.
“Aura-Celia” is pretty, evocative and crafted beautifully with deep-rooted classical innovations infused and melded with jazz overtones. There is a lovely bass solo from Bill McCrossen, which works its own sweet way around the theme and is cordially – and chordally – chopped by the piano which then develops the theme itself. After a momentary bar or two of confusion, the guitar emerges in solo fashion, and the piece leads to its finale, interrupted by a terrific drum led section where Carmen Sandim’s piano interacts with the rhythms and offsets them with class and grace.
“Undergrowth” is dark from the start, with piano lower notes bashed out and then the jungle develops, growing around the music, simmering into life as Dru Heller’s drums crash and bang their way through. A lovely, emotive piece and evocative sounds are made as the hidden life of the undergrowth – and the music – is brought forth, encouraged and each simple melody line bestowed with harmonies which bring them into being. The guitar also adds warping, tortuous shreds which work on the senses.
“Me Gusta La Angustia” introduces a different element again, proving that this band can be poetic in their workings, as well as harmonically together. This rises and falls, ebbs and flows like a sea of sound but one with shallow, safe depths. Just past the four-minute mark, something happens to the rhythm: It is pulled back, time slows and the effect is interesting. With many elements, this 12-minute piece feels slightly akin to a mini-suite, complete with brassy fanfares to introduce each solo. It is enjoyable though and there is a deliciously sweet sax line and Shane Endsley’s trumpet solo to leave the earth for a few seconds for.
“Waiting For Art” is piano led but not piano dominated, and it has enough variation to make six and a half minutes feel like less. Tempo changes any free player would be proud of are infused amongst what is a stolid and exemplary classically-driven creation. The short chordal transits are outstanding and act like rivulets, taking the music down and settling every time something different is introduced – including a pretty, effervescent guitar section and a lovely to and fro between Sandim’s piano and Heller’s drums.
“Hear the Trees” begins with guitar and bass, open strings, bare fingered and completely beautiful. You can hear every note, every touch of the fret or neck and this is just lovely. After a while, they introduce the theme which the piano picks up and develops even more but underneath, all the while Bill McCrossen’s bass sighs, like the soughing of wind in the branches even under the guitar solo and it continues until close to the end. A lovely piece.
The title track is introduced by a brassy six-quaver note repetition, with a rest between pairs and this repeats itself before the theme is developed first under the brass but then the motif is taken by Carmen Sandim’s piano in a seamless hand-over and the brass freely develop over the top. A cleverly arranged number, featuring a pretty piano solo, tempered by the ferocity with which each key is thwumped. Unusual and somehow enjoyable. “Free Wilbie” is lovely, with the melody molded around the theme chords extravagantly – yet with a continual return to the root, like it is built, squished and re-built again with different rhythm, tempo changes and arrangements. There’s lots going on, and the result is a playful, uplifting number to finish the album.
Play Doh is full of surprises, as things which would not seem that attractive in theory work out beautifully in playing and listening. That’s mostly due to the playing, and also to the very clever arrangements which make it full and colorful. There is a blend of traditional and modern here, infused with an underlying sway and sashay of Brazilian beats. It’s intriguing music that you will need to experience more than once to enjoy at full throttle. The third listen and beyond is when Carmen Sandim’s Play Doh really hits you.