Guitarist Benji Kaplan has three acclaimed albums to his credit. The latest, his fourth, finds Kaplan weaving guitar lines among those of other instruments. The result is storytelling with Kaplan as character and soundtrack musician. While the overall concept might be complex, at its core, “Chorando Sete Cores” is an album of lovely jazz originals with a story to tell.
“Chorando Sete Cores”: a unique concept
“Chorando Sete Cores” (translated “cries of the seven-colored tanager”), is an album that almost sounds like an exercise in whimsy. But before audiences can think about the sound of the album, they must first consider the title.
The seven-colored tanager is a small bird found in the forests of northeastern Brazil. The bird’s plumage is a patchwork of turquoise, black, orange, yellow, and blue. The head of the seven-colored tanager is turquoise. Unlike some birds that migrate for sustenance, the seven-colored tanager never leaves its native area.
Armed with that information, already there is a contrast between Kaplan and the bird after which he has named his album. Kaplan has traveled widely. The album re-creates Kaplan’s travels. However, the color of the bird has also inspired the album. There are colorful drawings of Kaplan, the title avian, an array of characters, and geometric shapes. The artwork, audiences discover from the CD’s liner notes, has been done by Kaplan’s mother.
The first four pieces are to replicate Kaplan’s journey. New York City and Brazil are featured prominently. A native of New York, Kaplan is inspired by the musical traditions of Brazil.
While every listener might not discern the idea that the album is a story, the tracks are composed of beautiful sounds. The instrumentation is often light and malleable, and likely to remind audiences of spring, despite the album’s late fall release.
If the first four pieces constitute the exposition, then the next five comprise the rising action. Included among these songs is the title track. The climax is made of two pieces. The songs are enchanting and vibrant. Even if listeners are unaware of the story arc that is at work on the album, they know that this pair of songs is expressing something special.
The denouement is represented by one song, “Leaves in the Wind.” The song evokes color and excitement, and essentially summarizes the journey that has been undertaken throughout the album.
On this album, Kaplan’s guitar work is augmented by Anne Drummond on alto and C flutes, Remy Leboeuf on clarinet and bass clarinet, and David Byrd Marrow on French horn. In addition to his guitar duties, Kaplan produced, arranged and composed all the work on “Chorando Sete Cores.”
“At the Vanguard”: soundscape
Kaplan chooses the name of a notable New York jazz club as the title for the second song of the exposition. The song itself begins mid-tempo with the guitar playing alone until the woodwinds gradually enter. The higher pitched instruments first, then the lower pitched ones. Before the listener realizes it, the soundscape has edged out the guitar completely. And, just as suddenly, when the listener realizes the guitar is gone, it returns.
The soundscape here might remind some listeners of the soundtrack to a movie or television show from the early 1960s. The interplay between guitar and woodwinds makes for dynamic, yet somewhat light, sounds. On this track and others, the idea of movement can be felt.
While some listeners might be overwhelmed by the concept behind the album, that should not stop them from enjoying the work. Kaplan’s guitar-playing is skillful. And as a leader of the ensemble, he does not shy away from letting other instruments have the spotlight. In short, Kaplan plays as an ensemble member, not as a bandleader, per se.
“Chorando Sete Cores” is an interesting album. It is perfect for jazz fans who figure they have heard it all.