Mary Ann McSweeney, Urban Fado (McSweeney)
In Lisbon, New York, Montreal, Paris, and Tokyo—among other places around the world—musicians are melding jazz and Fado. Fado’s origins in Portugal extend to at least the early 1800s, and quite likely even further back than that. Like jazz, the music has folk roots and seductive emotional power that thrives on rhythmic expressiveness and melodic invention.
The New York bassist Mary Ann McSweeney may not be the first American musician to combine these sympathetic forms, but her album of chamber music effectively covers their common ground and emphasizes the poignancy of both genres. Her group, varied in size and personnel from track to track, includes veteran classical and jazz musicians. Among them are guitarist John Hart, drummers Tim Horner and Willard Dyson and the expressive violinist Sara Caswell. In their solos, saxophonists Marc Mommas and Sam Marlieri capture various aspects of the idiosyncratic Fado warmth of feeling. Ms. McSweeney’s bass, muscular and incisive, is at the beating heart of the project. Her bowing is laden with emotional power, notably so on the title track. A highlight is Nana Simopoulos’s vocal on “Esquina Do Pecado,” composed by the late singer Amália Rodrigues, a Portuguese cultural icon. Another is Margret Grebowicz vocalizing in duet with Ms. McSweeney’s arco bass on the leader’s “Portrait of Fado.” A listener spending time with this collection is likely to come away inspired to learn more about Fado and the growing inclination of musicians to explore its spiritual connection to jazz.
Ms. McSweeney’s husband is the valve trombonist Mike Fahn, a native New Yorker who spent several years in Los Angeles gigging and recording with large and small groups including those of Billy May, Lionel Hampton, Maynard Ferguson, Bill Holman Frank Strazzeri, Andy Simpkins and Jack Sheldon. He has been back in New York for several years. In the Encyclopedia of Jazz, critic Leonard Feather called Fahn “one of the few genuine virtuosos” on his instrument. Ms. McSweeney is the bassist on East & West, recorded by Fahn quintets in New York and L.A. in 2006 and now available again. She also wrote several of the album’s arrangements, demonstrating a solid grasp of small-group dynamics. Fahn’s solo work—now tinged with bravado, now with restraint—is at its customary high level.