You could come to this album simply intrigued as to how a Barcelona born, Paris educated jazz violinist might interpret the classic song “My Favorite Things.” John Coltrane famously took the composition composed in 1959 by Rodgers and Hammerstein to a completely different place just a few years later in 1961 and defined what modern music was, or could be. Coloma Bertran takes “My Favorite Things” apart into nine additional compositions on the album Principis (Principles) with flavors of the original. It leans more toward Rodgers and Hammerstein than Coltrane without the smarmy results produced by some versions.
Bertran lives in Barcelona, where the native language is Catalan, which gives the title track, “Principis” a double meaning. In an email exchange, she says it is “one
of the main themes of the album, which I wrote to remind me where I come from and what my principles and values are.” The title tune begins with a lone violin, then drums and then it explodes into a joyous romp.
Her take on the jazz violin is also interesting; an instrument that is relatively rare in jazz, she makes it the center of attention. She follows greats such as Joe Venuti, Stephane Grappelli and more recently Regina Carter and Jenny Scheinman (who has worked with Bill Frisell). Nate Chinen, in his book “Playing Changes, Jazz for the New Century” includes Sheinman’s album 12 Songs in his list of 129 albums which best express the current panorama of contemporary jazz music. She is the only violinist mentioned in the list which may speak to the rarity of the violin in jazz.
Bertran cites Grappelli and the jazz fusion violinist Jean-Luc Ponty as early influences, as well as Bertran’s mentor, Didier Lockwood, the jazz violinist who she studied with in France.
“The first jazz violinist I discovered was Grappelli, when I was about 14 or 15 years old and studying classical music at the conservatory, one day I saw him playing with (Yehudi) Menuhin and I was very surprised, at that time I did not know that this music could be done with the violin... When I was studying deeper I discovered Didier Lockwood which is
without a doubt what has most influenced and inspired me. I was lucky enough to be able
to study with him...”
Bertran says Lockwood helped her learn the language of jazz. “He helped me lose the fear of improvising, having fun with the swing.”
What is intriguing about this album is what you might imagine Bertran is thinking. She invokes an agrarian cult with shamanic characteristics in the so-named tune “Benandanti,” a lovely and, given the title, somewhat mysterious piece on the album. The Benandanti were persecuted by the Catholic Church in the inquisition times. The bassist on the album Franco Molinari is originally from that region.
She calls a tune the “Poeta de l’asfalt”(The Asphalt Poet), a reference to her partner Quim Abramo Soldevila, the guitarist on the album who also writes poetry.
Bertran is a violinist with a wide range of sounds and influences ranging from jazz to classical to flamenco, bluegrass and Gypsy swing. Her group of choice for her sophomore album is Soldevila on guitar, Molinari on contrabass, and Joan Carles Aguerri on the drums. On Principis, she reaches for the full range of the violin, and particularly on the title track, a Celtic sensibility. There are love songs here such as “Martina,” a composition Bertran completed during her studies with Lockwood in Paris.
There are also fast swing tunes like “Eggman’s Blues,” whose title recalls Louis Armstrong’s “Big Butter and Egg Man” and for those of us of a certain age, “I am the Walrus” with a completely different frame of reference. In this case it is “dedicated to my adventure partner and father of my daughters... Soldevila, my egg man.” (See a live performance below.)
The album is inspiring, pushing the listener to further unwrap her ideas for these compositions, wondering what else lies beneath these songs. I asked her, what comes next? “I have a lot of plans, too many. Sometimes my head explodes because I want to do too many things musically speaking and I have to stop and calmly decide which of the many
paths I have in mind I want to choose.“
Find the artist online.
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