Pianist and composer Michelle Pollace from the San
Francisco Bay Area has been a long-time exponent of the
Latin jazz genre going back to her days as co-leader of the
Zarate Pollace Project where, along with Bay Area songwriter
and guitarist Abel Zarate, the group performed a blend of
fusion, jazz, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban styles of music.
Pollace continues her exploration of Latin jazz leading her
own small combo on their debut outing New Beginning,
featuring original compositions and arrangements of
contemporary jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms. Assembling a cast
of top-notch local players, the pianist performs in various
formats from a traditional piano trio to a light ensemble
with percussion and saxophone voices filling out the sound.
Pollace's grandfather, a professional jazz pianist himself, once performed "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" with legendary singer Judy Garland in a Chicago hotel. The program opens with a new Latin jazz arrangement of the Harold Arlen classic inspired by this event and is dedicated to both her father and grandfather and stands as one of the dicey renditions of this famous song ever recorded. The title of the disc was actually inspired by the experience of becoming a solo band leader and mother during the same period. The music is as up tempo and energetic as the exuberant "Hot House Dandelion" and the Brazilian-tinged "Forro."
The funky-smooth bossa of "Ondas do Mar" is the second of the Brazilian-flavored pieces with Pollace on the electric piano on the light introspective bossa "First Flight" completing the last of the Brazilian style pieces. The Afro-Cuban rhythms are on plainly display on the original "Be Right Back" featuring gorgeous pianos solos, percussion from Carlos Caro and the soprano saxophone voice of Kristen Strom for one of the highlights of the album. Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona would have been quite pleased with the new treatment Pollace provides of his classic "La Comparsa" featuring the combo of Strom and Caro once again.
The lively up tempo tropical jazz rumba of "Bright Eyes" winds down the repertoire leaving one of the best pieces for the finale. Set against the backdrop of a slow mid tempo mood, Pollace closes the session with "That Was Then," a traditional Afro-Cuban danzon infused with modern jazz harmonies that defines the project. Striking out on her own and being a mom are not the only beginnings pianist Michelle Pollace has to be proud of, with New Beginning Michelle reveals the depth of her compositional skills and her talents as a Latin jazz pianist of note.