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Joe LoCascio Trio
Silent Motion
Tafford Music

A mainstay of the local club scene for several years, pianist Joe LoCascio has recorded widely, with seven releases as a leader and many more as a session player, including a 1986 date with West Coast-cool idol Chet Baker near the end of the trumpeter's tragic career. On Silent Motion, LoCascio offers 11 original compositions -- a mixture of reflective ballads, varying-tempo bop, terse blues and pulsing swing. This bright sounding, well-balanced trio recording showcases LoCascio's firm rhythmic control, self-aware playing style and precise intonation. With a hard-hitting left hand that comes in second, perhaps, only to Oscar Peterson's, he pounds out the fiercely determined bass chords to "Old Floyd" while stepping up the pace with tight, rapidly ascending improvisations on the dancing melodic line. LoCascio's explosive right hand can run through a sharp gamut of fluctuating time signatures with a marching, sharply defined, tightly ranged pitch. His ascending runs on the ballad "Dandelions" also stand out, as he builds up and releases the tension of the main chords, changes over to some light, slightly flat variations on the main theme, and flutters away on the high end of the keyboard, always keeping sight of the song's larger structure and the trio's interaction.

The veteran supporting cast of drummer Ed Soph and especially bassist John Adams asserts its presence on a number of generous, winding solo turns. The long, somewhat gangling and fading bass vibrations of "The Days Run Away" add a humble warmth to the piano's contemplative lyric pose. "Dr. John," a mid-tempo romp through a minor key, features LoCascio and Soph trading volleys -- each pushed to the peak of spontaneous soloing, with the pianist moving tightly up the higher end of the scale and the drummer calling back increasingly wound-up, mounting riffs. In its most challenging harmonic and rhythmic interplay, the trio cooks on the samba "Afterglow," wherein LoCascio freely navigates a highly accented and diffusive theme, Adams lays down a hummingly sympathetic bassline and Soph ticks away suspensefully during the pauses.

As a composer, LoCascio takes an unshakable command of mainstream jazz. While the tracks fall largely into traditional genres and forms -- melody, solo, bridge, melody -- the sprawling array of styles and tempos keeps listeners on a rollicking course, if not on the edge.

-- Bill Levine

Flaco Jimenez
Flaco Jimenez
Arista/Texas

How does a 55-year-old accordion player from San Antonio end up headlining the Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland? By revolutionizing conjunto music, of course. And his just-released eponymous CD Flaco Jimenez continues the revolution.

The opening cut, "Seguro Que Hell Yes" shows Flaco doing what he does best -- taking Tejano music both back to its roots and into the future. A bilingual party tune featuring co-lead vocals from the Mavericks' Raul Malo, "Hell Yes" is the disc's first single.

The brassy "Cat Walk" features Lee Roy Parnell on lead guitar. Flaco and Parnell cowrote the instrumental with a distinct country twang, turning it into what may be the CD's standout cut.

"Para Las Parrandas," a cry-in-your-beer torcher, and "El Pesudo," a polka, are as traditional as Flaco gets; more often he backs up on the blues with a Tejano dance tune or aims for flat-out country.

Flaco's accordion work shines throughout the disc, especially on his polka-ized version of Buck Owens' "Open Up Your Heart." Oscar Tellez, a regular in Flaco's road band, cowrote "Carolina" with Flaco, and he's outstanding on the bajo sexto, staying out of the way but choosing the right moment to slide in his licks.

The disc's only real flaw comes in the form of Joel Guzman's keyboard work; his canned, Lawrence Welk-style is distracting, particularly on the cumbia "Por Una Mujer Bonita."

This CD is Flaco's 60-somethingth recording as a frontman. And when he's not in front, he's working with countless other artists as session player, including appearances on the Rolling Stones' Voodoo Lounge and stints with Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder, Chet Atkins and Los Lobos. Flaco's sometime gig as one-fourth of the Texas Tornados supergroup (with Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers and Freddy Fender) won Flaco his second Grammy.

The new CD is a must-have for even the most casual Tejano fan, and its appeal stretches well into the territory of country and blues as well. Crossover of that sort has a lot to do with how a 55-year-old accordion player from South Texas can end up being asked to star in a jazz festival.

-- Olivia Torre

 
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