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Softly by Romero Lubambo

Everyone raves about Romero Lubambo, particularly guitarists. He has been described by the late Herbie Mann as "the best Brazilian guitarist there is," and by Jazziz magazine as "the best practitioner of his craft in the world today." The craft in question is the somewhat rare one of finger-style guitar, although he confounds the electric guitar world by excelling in that also. Originally from Rio de Janeiro, but now based in New York, Lubambo is a member of the fine Brazilian group Trio da Paz but has also worked with a dizzying array of artists, a partial list including Dianne Reeves, Michael Brecker, Yo-Yo Ma, Kathleen Battle, Diana Krall, Herbie Mann, Wynton Marsalis, Jane Monheit, Kenny Barron, Ivan Lins, Grover Washington Jr., Flora Purim and Airto, Paquito D'Rivera, Harry Belafonte, Larry Coryell, Gato Barbieri, James Carter, Paula Robison, Dave Weckl, Claudia Acuña, Regina Carter, Luciana Souza, Gil Goldstein, Cesar Camargo Mariano, Joe Lovano, Lee Konitz; the list goes on and on, in itself indicating the respect in which he is held by fellow musicians. And as if his jazz skills were not enough he is also an outstanding classical performer. Oh, and he has a degree in mechanical engineering--is there a 12-step program for over-achievers?

Along with his list of performance credits Lubambo can boast an impressive discography. He is, according to Guitar Player Magazine, "one of the most frequently recorded guitarists in the world." But it is not just about quantity; the quality of his work is consistently at the highest level. Softly is his fourth solo recording, and it features all his skills superimposed upon each other as he multi-tracks a variety of instruments and performance styles, jazz blending with Romero's ever-present Brazilian sensibility. Overall, he keeps it low-key; his prodigious technique is at the service of the expression that he is striving for, which, according to his notes, is a romantic one. "To me," he writes, "the music is best when accompanied by candlelight, a nice glass of wine, and the one you love close by." All of the songs evoke something, or someone, for whom the artist has a great fondness, and include five standards, four Brazilian songs and five originals. "Pamela Elaine" is for his wife, "Nature's Beauty" for his daughter, "Heaven Here" for his home, "Fly So High" for a heron that inhabits his backyard. Two selections remember past collaborators; "Just The Two Of Us" evokes the Grover Washington hit album Winelight while Comin' Home Baby put Herbie Mann on the map. Several of the songs have lyrics penned by his wife, vocalist Pamela Driggs, which Romero was keeping in mind during the recording. The end result is an understated set, with a great deal of artistry but lacking the kind of edge that many listeners look for in jazz performance; two or three guitarists I played this to were distinctly underwhelmed. Certainly, the reflective mood represented here may flirt with "easy listening," or "smooth" jazz. Most of that genre has a lifeless quality but I don't quite get that from this recording. True, it does not have the same excitement Lubambo generated when I saw him live with Trio da Paz. Tracks such as "By The Stream", for example, reflect his upstate New York home environment, rather than the harsher sensibilities of the city. (Indeed, the CD depicts Lubambo in his boat, in an idyllic setting.)

Does that make this recording "commercial" and thus inferior? That is a complicated question, beyond the scope of a record review. I have noticed that, if you listen to Muzak, such as that playing at my wife's workplace, you will find much good music: Pat Metheny, Paul Desmond, Vivaldi, Mozart (not the Divertimenti but piano concertos, the 40th Symphony), etc. The difference is that some so-called "background" music rewards closer listening, some does not. This recording does; there is some fine playing here. Every mature genre should have room for more than one affect. So jazz should allow for reflection as well as excitement. If you are looking for the latter this recording is not for you. If you want to hear Romero in some more up-tempo settings, listen to Trio da Paz. For more purely Brazilian music try Rio de Janiero Underground or Luciana Souza's Brazilian Duos. If you wish to hear something romantic and understated, Softly will fit the bill.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Romero Lubambo
  • CD Title: Softly
  • Genre: Brazilian Jazz / Brazilian Pop Jazz
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Maxjazz
  • Rating: Three Stars
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