Alma Records' Sping/Summer Releases Are Indicative of Label's Eclectic Roster


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Toronto-based Alma Records is kicking into high gear with a slate of spring and summer releases that particularly highlights the label's commitment to music that transcends geographic boundaries.

Just as the sporting world is about to turn its focus to South Africa this summer for the World Cup, Alma will release the debut recording from the South African group Amabutho (June 8.) Amabutho made its “formal" musical debut in the wildly successful international theatrical phenomenon Umoja as the marimba band that powered the show's high- energy musical and dance performances. Amabutho was signed to Alma after the label's president, producer Peter Cardinali , saw Umoja while visiting London.

Sikelela is the eagerly anticipated debut album from these seven young men ,who grew up in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Durban, and the dusty streets of the Johannesburg township of Soweto. Their name is taken from the term for a regiment of Zulu warriors, but Amabutho are, in fact, the gentlest of warriors. On Sikelela, they deliver a soulful message of peace and unity via the sweet sounds of marimba, percussion and effortless vocal harmonies.

Amabutho's sound is built around the marimba. Most often described as a wooden variation of the xylophone, the marimba is a crucial component of many styles of South African music. In Amabutho's skilled hands, it produces a sound that is simultaneously percussive and delightfully melodic. The group features lead, tenor and bass marimba players, augmented by conga drums, bass drums, djembe, shakers and cow bell.

Amabutho have been chosen to perform at the World Cup opening ceremonies in South Africa in June of this year as a group in their own right as well as part of the cast of UMOJA, with which they remain active.

On June 22, pianist Hilario Duran will release Motion, the follow up to his Juno Award-winning and Grammy-nominated 2007 CD, From the Heart. The new CD features the acclaimed pianist and his working trio of bassist (and Alma Records label-mate) Roberto Occhipinti and drummer Mark Kelso, as well as contributions from guest percussionists Joaquin Hidalgo, Luis Orbegoso, and Jamey Haddad, and Pandemonium Strings.

Born in Cuba, Hilario Duran was a key member of Arturo Sandoval's band for nine years until Sandoval moved from Cuba to the United States. In 1990. Duran formed his own band, Perspectiva, and was the pianist in Jane Bunnett's award-winning Spirits of Havana band. In 1995, after a final European tour with Perspectiva, Duran established his solo career and moved to Toronto, Canada. A key figure on the Canadian music scene ever since, he has been a member of the jazz faculty at Hunter College, acting as both an adjunct professor and ensemble director. The many musicians he has collaborated with include Tat Guines, Changuito, Horacio “El Negro" Hernandez, Jorge Reyes, Roberto Occhipinti, Larry Cramer, John Patitucci, Michael Brecker, Regina Carter, Dave Valentin, Juan Pablo Torres, John Benitez, Dafnis Prieto, Hugh Marsh, Carlos “Patato" Vales, and Leny Andrade, as well as classical ensembles Quartetto Gelato and the Gryphon Trio. Bunnett's Spirits of Havana CD won a Juno award in 1990, while Duran himself was nominated in 2003 for a June for the CD Havana Remembered, and won in 2005 for New Danzon. In 2007, From the Heart, with special guests Paquito D'Rivera, Dione Taylor and Horacio “El Negro" Hernandez, won a Juno award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album, as well as a Grammy nomination for Best Solo Performance for the Hilario Duran composition, “Paq Man."

Alma's spring 2010 releases also showcase a blend of emerging and established talent.

Bassist Robert Occhipinti continues the explorations into musical synthesis that marked his three earlier Alma releases with A Bend in the River. The genesis of A Bend in the River came in 2008, when Occhipinti was the featured artist at a series of concerts presented by Music Toronto, which included musicians from various disciplines. While his earlier CDs featured larger ensembles, on the new CD, Occhipinti chose to primarily work with a basic quartet, drawing upon the talented pool of young Cubanos who have made Toronto and New York their new home: Luis Deniz on alto sax, David Virelles on piano and Dafnis Prieto on drums. Strings, winds and trumpet were added later, and the full orchestra featured on three of the tracks was recorded in Moscow.

Rounding out Alma's slate of releases for the first half of the year is My Romance, the debut CD from the remarkable new vocalist Kristy. My Romance introduces a talented singer whose ability to interpret and convey the emotional essence of a song shines throughout every one of the twelve tracks on My Romance. Featuring Kevin Breit (Cassandra Wilson, k.d. Lang, Norah Jones) on slide guitar, Matt Brubeck (son of the legendary Dave Brubeck) on cello, jazz icon Guido Basso on trumpet, and rising jazz star Robi Botos on piano, My Romance includes songs by Lennon and McCartney, Rodgers and Hart, and Johnny Mercer, all imbued with a maturity and deftness of touch rarely evidenced on debut recordings.

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