In Lisbon, New York, Montreal, Paris, and Tokyo—among other places around the world—musicians are melding jazz and Fado. Fado’s origins in Portugal extend to at least the early 1800s, and quite likely even further back than that. Like jazz, the music has folk roots and seductive emotional power that thrives on rhythmic expressiveness and melodic invention.
The New York bassist Mary Ann McSweeney may not be the first American musician to combine these sympathetic forms, but her album of chamber music effectively covers their common ground and emphasizes the poignancy of both genres. Her group, varied in size and personnel from track to track, includes veteran classical and jazz musicians. Among them are guitarist John Hart, drummers Tim Horner and Willard Dyson and the expressive violinist Sara Caswell. In their solos, saxophonists Marc Mommas and Sam Marlieri capture various aspects of the idiosyncratic Fado warmth of feeling. Ms. McSweeney’s bass, muscular and incisive, is at the beating heart of the project. Her bowing is laden with emotional power, notably so on the title track. A highlight is Nana Simopoulos’s vocal on “Esquina Do Pecado,” composed by the late singer Amália Rodrigues, a Portuguese cultural icon. Another is Margret Grebowicz vocalizing in duet with Ms. McSweeney’s arco bass on the leader’s “Portrait of Fado.” A listener spending time with this collection is likely to come away inspired to learn more about Fado and the growing inclination of musicians to explore its spiritual connection to jazz.
Thoughts of You
“Mary Ann McSweeney reveals herself to be a talented bassist and bandleader, a resourceful composer, and an imaginative arranger. The musicians on the album are outstanding. Opting for the unusual frontline of trombone and saxophone, McSweeney enlists Mike Fahn and Donny McCaslin respectively. Fahn plays both valve and slide trombones, and McCaslin switches between tenor and soprano, giving McSweeney additional colors to work with. Henry Hey, a budding master, provides wonderful orchestral viewpoints at the piano. Tim Horner, at the drums, serves as McSweeney’s partner in rhythm, and percussionist Joe Mowatt appears on three tracks.
The album gets off the ground with “R.B.’s Tribute,” a blues co-written by McSweeney and Fahn in honor of Ray Brown. Four of the remaining seven tracks are McSweeney originals: “Stillness,” a ballad with dark, beautiful harmonies; “Winter on the Bay,” an evocative waltz; “Nana’s Tango,” a dynamically varied piece with a “Spanish tinge;” and “Thoughts of You,” a closing piano trio feature. On Wayne Shorter’s “Yes and No” and the Raye DePaul standard “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” McSweeney toys with 6/8 time in different ways and throws new harmonic challenges at the soloists. Her arrangement of “Amazing Grace” features Henry Hey on Fender Rhodes and places the solos over a half-time funk groove. There’s arguably something of a church flavor here, even as McSweeney takes the old spiritual well beyond its familiar bounds. There’s much improvisational brilliance on the record, not least from the leader, who gives herself plenty of solo space. But what elevates Thoughts of You above the ordinary is McSweeney’s gift for song.“
David R. Adler, All Music Guide