Brandi Disterheft Trio featuring George Coleman
Bassist-composer-singer Brandi Disterheft’s fifth album, Surfboard, features two iconic octogenarian masters — virtuoso tenor saxophonist George Coleman and the definitive Brazilian drummer Portinho — as well as world-class pianist Klaus Mueller. Disterheft’s kinetic, harmonically erudite basslines anchor ensemble interpretations of choice tunes culled from the blues, mainstream jazz, and the Great Brazilian and American Songbooks. She sings those Songbook numbers, and on several sings her own evocative lyrics, with an instantly recognizable, airy, breathy, confident but oft fragile sounding voice. And she steps forward with conviction on a series of creative solos. As is often the case with many jazz albums, we are indebted to Ted Panken’s liner notes.
The project gestated in Disterheft’s decade-long musical relationship with Portinho, whom she met through Mueller soon after she moved to New York from Canada in 2010. Their simpatico developed during years as a working band, on numerous Canadian concerts led by Disterheft and Portinho’s five-sets-a-night weekend sinecure at a Brazilian churrascaria in Manhattan. “I wanted to record us,” she says. “Porto has a way of uplifting the beat. It’s so funky, with such an infectious groove, and he has so much dynamic range. He has strict rules, but once you learn them, he wants you to break away. He’s always anticipating, turning around the phrases. It’s so much fun.”
As strong as this trio is however, let’s face it – one of the main draws of this album is the presence of 85-year-old NEA Jazz Master George Coleman, who isn’t heard on that many albums of recent vintage, and thereby presents an inviting treat on three of the 14 tracks. Coleman still has his chops, playing compelling, vigorous solos on the standards “My Foolish Heart” and “Speak Low” and the leader’s own evocative “Coup de Foudre.” Disterheft connected with him through his lifelong friend and bandstand partner, the late pianist Harold Mabern, who — with A-list New York drummer Joe Farnsworth — partnered with her on the hard-swinging 2016, CD, Blue Canvas, and several subsequent tours. Like Portinho, she remarks, Coleman “loves to keep people on their toes,” adding, “He’ll change harmony at the drop of a hat.”
Disterheft’s precise phrasing, soulfulness and distinctiveness come through not only when she sings the jazz standard “Where or When” and the 60s pop hit “On Broadway,” but especially on her own tunes, “One Dream,” being a prime example.” Her bass playing and trio interplay is on vivid display throughout, with Mueller providing nimble, melodic lines that are especially impressive on Disterheft’s original, her ode to her drummer who also contributes his own statements to “Portrait of Porto.” The closing original “Reveries” is a beautifully rendered instrumental ballad featuring Mueller’s delicate touch and some turns from the leader on cello.
She demonstrates her blend down-home grit and elegance on interpretations of canonic pieces by bass heroes Oscar Pettiford (“The Pendulum at Falcon’s Lair”) and Sam Jones (“Del Sasser”), and in her propulsive beat articulation on two “obscure, wonderful Brazilian tunes” that Portinho brought to her attention — Moacir Santos’ “Nanã” and the polyrhythmic “Surfboard,” a less covered Jobim number that serves as the opening title track.
“Surfboard” is an apt title as it implies balance, which this album does on several fronts – Brazilian vs. Great American Songbook, standards vs. originals, vocals vs. instrumentals, ballads vs. swinging tunes, and leads that shift from bass to piano to Coleman’s stirring tenor sax. Surfboard is not only enjoyable; like the image it connotes, it is refreshing.