Los Angeles is a place rich in Jazz talent. With Kathy Segel-Garcia as vocal coach and coproducer, Mayita brought along Bill Cantos and Rich Eames on piano, Gabe Davis on acoustic bass, Hussain Jiffry on electric bass, Dori Amarilio on guitar, Michael Hunter on trumpet and flugelhorn, Alex Budman with flute clarinet and soprano sax, Steve Hass on drums, and Tiki Pasillas on drums in percussion. The results are remarkable.
Here choices in songs is beautifully focused on life in the garden—flowers, trees, birds, and more. The first reaction may be to think that it is a contrived song list but this is not the feeling you get from the track list arrangement. Rather, it is clearly a reflection of what is dear to Mayita’s heart. Again, the results are remarkable.
The album opens with Charlie Parker’s Ornithology with lyrics written by Mayita herself. Dori Amarilio’s guitar and Alex Budman’s flute contribute to the samba treatment. Rich Eames piano creates the image of calling birds with response from Budman’s soprano sax. And through that sweet musical chorus, Mayita’s vocals sound completely at ease and so very natural, as though she was releasing her 10th album instead of her first.
From the very first song, it is clear that Dori Amarilio's arrangements are going to be breathing fresh life into these great songs. The arrangements are stellar and so very well-suited for Mayita and the supporting artists/
That ease and naturalness continues into Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright’s Come Back as a Flower from Stevie’s album, The Secret Life of Plants. Again, Amarilio’s guitar is of singular excellence. The whole group contribute beautifully in what has always been one of my favorites from the Secret Life… album.
From Bird and Wonder, Mayita takes us to Thelonious Monk’s Pannonica (lyrics by Jon Hendricks). The woman by the name of Pannonica is described as a butterfly. Flute, guitar, and piano provide the lightly flighty movement as Mayita intones the descriptive and lyrical narrative. Her voice flows easily over the airy melodies.
From that garden reverie, Mayita flows into Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock. Amarilio’s guitar lead-in sounds like the delivery of Carlos Santana which enhances the Woodstock feeling. His playing is just as clean as Santana’s. Of course, the focal lyrics are:
We are stardust
We are golden
We are billion-year-old carbon
And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden
And you were wondering what Woodstock had to do with a garden.
Mayita very competently alters the tempo and the rhythm of her singing along with a few Jazzy changes to the vocal melodic lines. What she creates could be a Jazz standard fashioned from the bones of a rock standard.
Lullaby of the Leaves (Bernice Petkere/Joseph Young) is introduced by Amarilio’s Wes Montgomery-sounding guitar. Then Bill Cantos’ piano takes over and Mayita’s vocals are delivered like something from a 1930s black and white movie.
At this point, I was asking myself, “Good Lord, why haven’t I heard her before?” And just as quickly comes the response, “Oh, yeah. This is her debut album.” I mean, yeah, she’s that good.
Mayita then takes on Jorge Drexler’s Un pais con el nombre de un rio. The Uruguayan musician, actor, and doctor composed the song which translates as The Country Named After a River, which is, of course, referring to Uruguay. Mayita sings it in the Spanish Rioplatense dialect and does it beautifully. Not to keep mentioning Dori Amarilio’s guitar but the Spanish guitar is a brief but beautiful introduction.
The chorus reveals her choice for the song.
It's hard to leave
it's hard to stay
it's hard to forget
the smell of the wet earth
Of course, with a Puerto Rican mother (and being born there), and a grandmother who taught her songs in Spanish, her diction is perfect. The song, the music, and the singing flow just like the Uruguay River. The song is placid but not listless. Sweetly and warmly done.
Then she brings on the Freddie Hubbard/Rochelle House song, Little Sunflower. Michael Hunter’s flugelhorn taks on the Freddie parts. Tiki Pasillas’ percussion and Steve Hass’ drums, as was true with Un pais con el nombre de un rio, are spot on and contribute in great measure to the success of these pieces. Gabe Davis’ bass and Hussain Jiffry’s fretless bass add great harmonic texture. But Hunter and Cantos work so very well together and the whole track is extraordinary and warm as Mayita makes this song her own.
The South American vibe continues with Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Double Rainbow (lyrics by Gene Lees). You can’t go wrong with Jobim and that is certainly true of Mayita’s treatment, accompanied by the same line-up. Cantos gets good piano work in this song and Hunter’s muted trumpet is a cool backdrop.
La Lola is an original composition of Mayita’s with lyrics by Frederico Garcia Lorca. Only Gabe Davis’ bass accompanies Mayita’s rich and captivating vocals.
Under the orange trees she washes
diapers made of cotton
She has green eyes
and a violet voice.
under the blossoming orange tree!
Sadly, the song is just under two minutes in duration. It is a soulful ballad of exquisite loveliness with a bit of melancholy that just pulls at the heart.
From there, Mayita moves us with Billy Strayhorn’s A Flower is a Lovesome Thing. Strayhorn wrote the music and the lyrics and Mayita’s sings it like she was sitting beside him when he wrote it. Budman’s flute and Hunter’s trumpet are in sweet duet trading passages as the great rhythm section keeps the Latin flavor alive.
From the gardenias of the Strayhorn number, she uncovers the rose in Spanish Harlem (Jerry Lieber/Phil Spector). Hunter’s cool trumpet and Cantos’ piano create a beautiful nightscape for Mayita’s lush vocals. Add Amarilio’s acoustic guitar with Hass and Passillas on drums and percussion and this is rendered as the classic that it always has been. The andante tempo is just right for this song. Plus, she miraculously sings in tones that reflect her father’s heritage and her own love for Middle Eastern music. Those influences transform this old Lieber chestnut into something more engaging and moving than ever heard before.
Pianist Rich Eames arranged the Ann Ronell song, Willow Weep for Me. Backed by just the trio of Eames, David, and Hass, Mayita conveys the melancholy set in an arboreal sanctuary with cool delivery and soulful instrumentation. Gabe Davis gives a warm and touching bass solo that leads into Eames’ brighter piano solo. It is like feeling sadness inside surroundings of joy and beauty.
Mayita closes her debut album (God, let there be many more to come!) with Jobim’s great piece Agua de beber. Hunter and Budman introduce the song on trumpet and flute along with Amarilio’s acoustic guitar. Mayita interprets the piece in about one-third the tempo of other covers like Al Jarreau’s. It works. But the outro picks up the pace and she wraps up the album with those joyful Jobim sounds.
What an album. Mayita Dinos sings with such polish and poise that it belies the fact that this is her first foray into recording. The artists supporting her are brilliant, the production is sterling, the song selection is flawless. It is only May but I can’t imagine any album coming out this year that can remove her from Best Debut Album on my Favorites of 2020 list.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl