Blue Canoe Records
Vocalist Luba Mason’s Triangle features an unprecedented configuration in any genre of a trio comprised of vocals, vibraphone, and bass. Captured before an intimate gathering of invited friends, family, and fans at Manhattan’s Power Station Studio, Mason is accompanied by master vibraphonist Joe Locke and bassist James Genus (Herbie Hancock) for a set of ten tunes produced by longtime Prince collaborator Renato Neto. As with her previous album, Mixtura, a term she has since trademarked, the music is remarkably diverse – from pop classics by The Beatles and Paul Simon to a Monk standard, a Slovak folk song and a recent Broadway hit. Surely it is also the first time Antonio Carlos Jobim and heavy metal band System of Down have appeared in the same set list.
As this writer mentioned to another music fan, even one fawn over Mason’s vocals, Locke’s vibraphone is a wonder. Given Mason credit in any case for her unique interpretations and this courageous undertaking, which she transforms from the seemingly limited into an engaging listen via her phrasing and risk taking. The opener, composer Sxip Shirey’s “Bach, Stevie Wonder and Janelle Monae,” is both a love letter to the music of one’s mind and something of a “Mixtura” anthem. It sets the stage for the eclecticism that follows. The yearning “Haled’s Song About Love” comes from David Yazbeck’s Tony-sweeping 2017 Broadway musical The Band’s Visit. Colombian percussionist Samuel Torres makes the first of three appearances on the Lennon/McCartney classic “Ticket To Ride,” remaining for the Jobim favorite “Waters of March.” It’s on the familiar fare like The Beatles tune and Paul Simon’s closer where most fans will appreciate the apparent simplicity of the ensemble playing in highly creative fashion.
The coming-of-age folk song “Ceresne,” performed in duo with Locke, is Mason’s tribute to the Slovak community in which she was raised. Its emotive rendering is juxtaposed with the buoyant swing of the trio’s take on Thelonious Monk’s “In Walked Bud” (with lyrics from Jon Hendricks). The oft-recorded bolero “Inolvidable” is the vocalist’s nod to her Latin fanbase, while “Toxicity,” which retains the tension if not the brutal volume of the System of a Down original, is the album’s most shocking piece. The Frank Loesser/Jimmy McHugh standard “Say It” is rendered with a lush tenderness before Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” with Torres, concludes in high spirits with an audience clap-along.
The challenge of venturing into unexplored territory comes naturally to Mason, in part a natural outgrowth of her unique background. A first generation American of Slovak descent, she grew up in Astoria, Queens and studied classical piano and voice. She went on to realize her dream of starring on Broadway, with performances in Jekyll & Hyde and Paul Simon’s The Capeman, starring as Velma in Chicago opposite Brooke Shields and in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying with Matthew Broderick, among others. At the same time she’s enjoyed a rich life in jazz, duetting with Al Jarreau on the legendary singer’s final recording and collaborating with such esteemed musicians as Hubert Laws, Randy Brecker, Jimmy Haslip and Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Most recently Mason learned to play the drums for her role in Conor McPherson’s Girl From the North Country, a Broadway musical based on the songs of Bob Dylan that achieved critical acclaim before going on hiatus due to the Coronavirus pandemic. She’s also made the transition from stage to screen, guest starring in episodes of shows like Law & Order and Person of Interest and co-starring with her husband, the Panamanian musician, actor and activist Rubén Blades, in Tonya Pinkins’ upcoming political horror film Red Pill.
The multi-talented Mason now delivers Triangle, her fourth solo album, following her 2004 debut Collage, the Brazilian-inspired Krazy Love, and the genre-defying Mixtura. It was on Krazy Love that she first worked and co-wrote original songs with Neto, a native of Brazil who played keyboards in Prince’s New Power Generation band off and on for nearly a decade. It was Neto who suggested this unique instrumental configuration. In Locke she enlisted one of the leading voices on the instrument, a versatile vibraphonist whose wide range of collaborators has included Grover Washington Jr., Cecil Taylor, Dianne Reeves, The Beastie Boys and Ron Carter. A familiar figure from his long tenure as bassist for the Saturday Night Live band, James Genus is also an acclaimed jazz bassist whose three-decade career includes work with Herbie Hancock, Dave Douglas, Branford Marsalis, Chick Corea and Michael Brecker, among countless others. She did well by enlisting two of jazz music’s best on their respective instruments. You’ll never hear an album quite like this as it is the only one of its kind.
- Jim Hynes