On Sunday, March 18th, I headed north to The Jazz Forum in Tarrytown, New York, to check out jazz flutist Andrea Brachfeld. She was performing one of a series of concerts of the repertoire from her latest album, If Not Now, When?, supported by a grant from Chamber Music America (CMA) and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
Andrea Brachfeld is known to fans of Latin music as the first female professional charanga (Cuban-style) flutist in the United States, a distinction she earned when she began performing with various New York City-based charanga bands in the mid-1970’s, while she was a student of Harold Bennett and Andrew Lolya at The Manhattan School of Music. However, she had already identified herself as a jazz flutist when she was a teenager, studying jazz at Jazzmobile and Jazz Interactions with Jimmy Heath, Yusef Lateef, and other distinguished jazz performers. She had excelled so greatly at her jazz studies as to earn herself the Jazz Interactions Louis Armstrong Award for an Outstanding Jazz Student in 1974, the first of many awards yet to come.
Today, Andrea Brachfeld is an artist with a discography that is equally weighty in both the worlds of Latin music and jazz. In the last 5 years, Ms. Brachfeld has released three albums in quick succession, all in the arena of more straight-ahead and modern jazz. Like Monet with his series of paintings of haystacks and water lilies, with each album she is endeavoring to delve further and further into the heart and the gestalt of the improvisational music she is exploring, and its connection to her own spiritual journey.
For this album of original compositions, she collaborated with pianist Bill O’Connell, who, again is well-known to fans of Latin music (as the pianist who collaborated with the late Latin flute innovator, Dave Valentin, throughout most of his career). Ms. Brachfeld devoted herself to composing pure melody, while harmonization was supplied by Mr. O’Connell. This concert was a live performance of the final results of that collaboration for the album.
Despite Ms. Brachfeld’s own ethereal description of her creative process, in live performance she and the rest of the band, Harvie S. (formerly known as Harvie Swartz — see also) on bass, and Jason Tiemann on drum set) spin a brand of modern jazz that is characteristic of musicians of their generation. Their collective improvisation is saturated with the sounds of Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, McCoy Tyner, and John Coltrane. In this driving, forceful style of jazz, the flute can easily be overpowered by the rhythm section. This is where Ms. Brachfeld sets herself apart from the rank and file of jazz flutists. With her extraordinary technical ability, few flutists are in her class. She creates a wall of sound with double- and quadruple-time that cuts through the rhythm section like a hot knife through butter, leading the way with strength to rival any tenor saxophonist. Occasional, tasteful use of bariolage and other basic extended techniques lend energy and force to push through.
Even within their clearly-defined stylistic genre, Andrea and her compatriots find subtle variety of tone, energy, and sentiment. Certain numbers, like The Listening Song, and Steppin’ push the boundaries of tonality and conventional rhythm. Others, like Deeply I Live, and The Silence are more conventional compositions, but still performed with the same modern approach to improvisation. Movers and Shakers shakes things up with a funk-tinged groove, and two beautiful ballads, Creating Space and The Opening (in 3/4), allowed for greater explorations of color, shade, and nuance. The Opening, even with its sultry, laid-back tempo, was soulful and funky, with shades of Vince Guaraldi and old-school gospel.
Ms. Brachfeld’s CMA grant tenure includes two more performances of this repertoire with this ensemble, but hopefully there will be many more beyond the required number. For genuine and fearless fans of jazz and improvisation, Andrea offers a satisfying exploration that gets to the core of sound and expression, accomplished with charisma and virtuosity. I highly recommend that aficionados of flute and of modern jazz try to see them when they are playing near you.
Review by Jessica Valiente
See also: Andrea’s report about her experience with Focal Dystonia (Viewed over 5,300 times to date.)
And: Our review of her last CD, Lotus Blossom
[Editor’s note: A Review of Ms. Brachfeld’s new CD will follow shortly.]
A member of the Flute Journal editorial board, flutist, bandleader, and scholar Dr. Jessica Valiente holds a D.M.A. from C.U.N.Y. and is currently Chair of World Music for the National Flute Association (USA). A conservatory-trained classical musician, she has since expanded into jazz improvisation and studies of traditional musics from all over the world, specializing in Afro-Cuban and other Latin styles, Brazilian choro, straight-ahead jazz, and early music/historical flutes. She also performs as a soloist on traditional Native American style courtship flutes and the Andean quena.
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