The NUVO Jazz Quartet features
re-interpretations of late-Romantic classics by
Faure, Gershwin and Rachmaninoff, Ladino folk music,
Brazilian and Turkish style compositions.
Rounding out the
repertoire is a
vocal blues suite by Ornette Coleman, Thelonius Monk, & McCoy Tyner.
violin, piano, fretless electric bass, drumset
This Israeli folk song is typically sung in a moderate 2-beat feel. After playing it as a soloist for a number of years, a more syncopated arrangement emerged that fused together elements of Afro-Cuban as well as Brazilian musics, though the oscillation between 3/4 and 4/4 is more typical of Eastern European dance-based folk music. Much of the arrangement's final form was inspired by the fiery playing of our percussionist, as the setup for his solo is very different than the ones for the violinist and bassist. The choice of using a fretless electric bass vs. an acoustic bass is designed to heighten the contrast between the song's folk origins and this Latin fusion style arrangement.
My arrangement of Chanson d'Amour is by far the most conservative adaptation of all our classical works. The decision to score the piece for two melodic instruments (muted violin and alto flute) and a harmonic instrument (acoustic guitar) without percussion reflects my desire to emulate the sound of the trio sonata from the baroque era. The frequent imitative call-and-response phrasing of the melody also harkens back to that texture.
And yet, there are subtle updates to Faure's work. From a rhythmic standpoint, the overall feel has been turned into a light samba by the rhythm of the guitar, while the contrasting section has been transformed into a sprightly 6/8 jazz waltz feel with more frequent jazz harmonies. While the melody in the opening section of the song has been faithfully respected, the melody of the new section has been completely stripped down to a vibrato-less plainchant-like utterance, as if to cool down the temperament of the original impassioned lyrics. From an improvisational standpoint, there are two spaces for the muted violin to be creative— first to create a new countermelody against a simpler version of the melody played by the alto flute, and the other is a freer section with just chordal accompaniment by the guitar. As with all our works by Faure, the challenge for the violinist is to keep the improvisation in the style of the original and not blatantly 'jazzified'.
Hommage a Gismonti was written in 1987 (revised in 2000) and dedicated to the great Brazilian jazz/new music composer Egberto Gismonti. It was created immediately following one of his rare Bay Area appearances, and was first recorded in a duo format with saxophonist/drummer Sheldon Brown on Michael's CD entitled Limbo Eruption. Given that a number of Gismonti's most compelling recordings feature the cello (most notably Infancia on ECM), it's not a surprise that Hommage is presented as a trio including cello.
The full piece uses a large-scale architecture with all three instruments—cello, piano, and percussion—each having their own unique improvisational setting. The use of the cello as a pizzicato bass and bowed melody instrument, distinct vocalise lines, and a virtuosic piano part, all contribute to the rich diversity of this nearly 8-minute piece.
I was introduced to Y'vonim by a Hasidic temple which requested that I perform it for one of its holiday celebrations. It turns out that very little is known about the origins of this piece, only that it came from a Hasidic music publisher, and that it is likely of Sephardic origin (secular Jewish music from medieval Spain).
Even with its modest length of just 4 lines, its insistent rhythm and melodic shape beckoned me to develop it into a more dramatic form. Not only were phrases repeated, varied, and re-harmonized, but entire new sections were created – the introduction/closing, drum solo set-up, and the Brazilian-flavored bridge presenting a significant melodic departure; yet they all fit together. The arrangement was created in 2012, and it is the group's most frequently commented-upon piece.
"The concert here at Wisteria Ways was fabulous — innovative,
exhilarating, haunting (especially the extended Turkish suite), and uplifting. Terrific musicians, each and every one. It was a privilege to host you."
— Anne E. Emerick, Host of Wisteria Ways
House Concert Series
"The NUVO Jazz Quartet's concert was both intriguing in its diversity of songs, and entrancing in its performance.
The jazz re-interpretations of classical works ranged from
lyrical to powerful, and your version of "Claire de Lune"
was especially noteworthy. Our audience loved the performance and ended the evening with a standing
ovation. They even demanded an encore!" — Markus Fromherz,Host of theLive At Amaranta
House Concert series
"Congratulations on the debut of your re-created quartet !"
Our audience loved NUVO, especially the way in which you introduced
each piece with a some comments and then played a short
pre-recorded excerpt of the original piece to help orient everyone.
The transitions into your re-constructed versions were really seamless."
— Marilyn Kosinksi, Concert & Music Coordinator St. Paul's Towers, Oakland
"The Rachmaninoff was magnificent. Quite transporting..."
—Rev. Jeff Anderson, Senior Minister at Oakland Center for Spiritual Living
"What a fabulous trio, unlike anything I've heard !
One minute fiery, the next, sweet and romantic ..." —Melanie Wright, Assistant Activities Director
Varenna At Fountaingrove, Santa Rosa
"The standing ovation at the end of the first set
said everything that needs to be said about the
NUVO's performance at Concerts Off The Circle.
Once again, Smolens has surrounded himself with virtuosic collaborators.
His original compositions/arrangements and adept keyboard work
shown brightly throughout. Percussionist Brian Rice
turned a couple of cymbals and a wooden box into a
full drum kit for the jazz and blues numbers,
while augmenting the performance with his usual assortment
of expertly executed percussive oddities.
Sam Bass filled the space with so many sounds that it was
sometimes astonishing that they all came from a single cello
(with a little help from his digital looper, of course).
All taken, the NUVO Chamber Trio was outstanding." —Brad Gallien, Host of
Concerts Off The Circle
"An intriguing and entertaining afternoon of music by three very talented musicians. The Jazz At The Chimes audience certainly appreciated hearing this unique trio..." —Mary D'Orazi,
presenter for Jazz At The Chimes
"Our audience thought your trio was really great.
Fabulous variety styles and moods..." —Ramon Honea, Activites Director
Cardinal Point, Alameda
history of performances
Saturday December 9th
Private House Concert, Palo Alto
Sunday November 5th
Maybeck Recital Hall, Berkeley
Monday October 30th
St. Paul's Towers, Oakland
Sunday November 15th Oakland Center For Spiritual Living
Friday October 24th
Varenna Center, Santa Rosa
Sunday July 20th
Jazz At The Chimes, Oakland
Monday January 20th
Varenna Center, Santa Rosa
Monday September 30th
Varenna Center, Santa Rosa
Friday May 17th
Cardinal Point, Alameda
Saturday March 16th
House Concert, Berkeley (SOLD OUT)
Michael Smolens (arranger/composer, piano, melodica,
dumbek, alto flute, voice)
A composer/arranger, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist who has performed for nearly four decades, Smolens’ artistic sensibility freely incorporates colors, moods, and arranging concepts from a multitude of influences. His primary sources of inspiration include: contemporary jazz, modern vocal flights, 20th-century classical, North Indian classical, African music, modern Brazilian music, accompanied Sufi poetry, and stage magic. Michael holds two music degrees from UC Santa Cruz, and has studied with some of the most innovative jazz teachers, including Art Lande, Allaudin Mathieu, and Kenny Werner. His works have been commissioned by Meet The Composer, National Public Radio, the Occidental Choir, UCSC Dance Dept., and numerous Bay Area solo vocalists.
Michael has recorded six CDs in various formats from duo to large ensembles and they feature jazz legends Stefon Harris (vibes), Paul McCandless (reeds), and Zakir Hussain (tablas). He has also performed and recorded with members of Bobby McFerrin's "Voicestra" and folk/jazz/storyteller legend Claudia Schmidt. Other ensembles he leads include the West-African trio Bal du Kor, Brazilian trio Brisas do Brasil, the New American Songbook Project, earPlay Jazzquintet, KRIYA Octet, and the vocal Mirabai Ensemble.
Michael is a senior-level teacher, working with individuals and groups since 1974 and coaching other teachers since 2000. He has published and lectured extensively on the art of practicing, and is adjunct faculty at Sonoma State University and JFK University.
Justin Ouellet (violin & viola)
co-director of orchestral & chamber music studies at Oakland School for the Arts, Justin Ouellet is quickly garnering a reputation as a top performer as a cross-over artist in the classical and non-classical worlds. He has worked with an array of conductors including the award winning Gerard Schwarz, John McLaughlin Williams and Arnie Roth as well as performed alongside musicians around the world including the Alexander String Quartet, Wayne Lin, Kimberly Fisher, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg & Emil Miland.
As an orchestral & chamber musician, Justin has performed throughout the United States in halls such as Carnegie Hall, Boston's Symphony Hall, Philadelphia's Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, and internationally in the countries of Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, Puerto Rico & Switzerland. As a non-classical musician Justin has been a featured artist alongside some of the San Francisco's preeminent performers such as Kev Choice, Josh Jones, Cava Menzies, Rob Reich, and more. Justin can be heard on recent recordings by Cava Menzies, Roscoe Mitchell & Undercover Presents as well as a co-produced EP for Anna Oiseau.
Aaron Germain (acoustic bass, fretless electric bass, acoustic, guitar, gimbri)
Spending 20 years as a busy hired gun bass player, Aaron has been through all sorts of adventures; traveling the world and learning from the masters. Growing up in Massachusetts, he cut his teeth playing upright and electric bass in bands ranging from jazz, blues, funk, reggae, Senegalese mbalax; all while driving to New York and Boston, and all over New England. From the beginning he learned to be picky about quality, but not genre. Moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2000, his adventures continued, and he quickly found himself working over time, sometimes playing two or three gigs a day. He entered the world of salsa and Afro-Cuban music, Brazilian forro music, Caribbean steel pan music; he found himself accompanying Indian kathak dancers, veteran calypso singers from Trinidad, or navigating through dense, odd-meter jazz compositions.
Over the years, Aaron has performed with instrumentalist such as: Barry Finnerty, Scott Hamilton, John Handy, Tommy Igoe, Stanley Jordon, Yusef Lateef, Nguyen Le, Jeff Massanari, Paul McCandless, Jason Marsalis,Melba Moore;, Andy Narell, Akira Tana, and Michael Wolff. And vocalists, including
Jacqui Naylor, Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Washington, Paula West, and Mary Wilson.
He has performed at notable local venues such as The Fillmore, Herbst Theatre, The San Francisco Jazz Festival,Yoshis (Oakland SF); New York venues including Blue Note, The Blues Alley, Scullers, Zanzibar Blue; and Japanese venues Le Club Jazz (Kyoto), Cafe Yorozuya (Kobe), Z Imagine (Tokyo), Donfan (Tokyo), MEG (Tokyo) and Bar T.T. Funk (Tokyo).
Marlon Aldana (drums, cajon, dumbek)
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, 1988. Musician, mixing engineer, and architect. At a young age Marlon started drumming and experimenting with Latin music as a self-taught musician, later studying jazz, rock and funk styles with numerous teachers around Mexico. He received a degree in architecture with a specialty in combining music and sculpture concepts and worked as a session drummer with different pop and rock artists around Mexico.
Since he moved to the US in 2012, he is been part of a variety of projects with different genres including jazz, Afro-Cuban, funk, reggae, electronic, folk, and many others. Aldana was introduced into the flamenco world by Maestro Jason McGuire “El Rubio”, which became his teacher and mentor. In 2014 Aldana became part of the company Caminos Flamencos and The Jason McGuire Trio, combining flamenco, jazz and Latin music. He currently lives in Oakland, CA where he works as a musician and graphic designer with several local and touring artists.