With her last album, Mixtura, vocalist Luba Mason established her own musical genre, a “blend of different musical currents” that draws upon a staggeringly eclectic palette of influences and approaches. Her breathtaking new release, Triangle, carries the concept forward with a wholly unique, spare yet vibrant new line-up. Captured before an intimate gathering of invited friends, family and fans at Manhattan’s renowned Power Station studio, the album features an unprecedented trio of vocals, vibraphone and bass featuring master musicians Joe Locke and James Genus and produced by longtime Prince collaborator Renato Neto.
Due out October 23, 2020 via Blue Canoe Records, Triangle exemplifies the passion for fresh perspectives and unexpected choices that led Mason to trademark the “Mixtura” name. The material is jaw-droppingly diverse: from pop classics by the Beatles and Paul Simon to a Monk standard, a Slovak folk song and a recent Broadway hit, and surely the first time that Brazilian legend Antonio Carlos Jobim and heavy metal band System of a Down have been represented in the same repertoire. Add to that the surprising instrumentation and you have a collection that is absolutely gorgeous in its unfamiliarity while remaining vividly engaging.
JazzTimes has the track premiere for Thelonious Monk’s “In Walked Bud” here:
“My tastes span the musical spectrum,” says Mason. “I like to represent that in my performances. By trademarking ‘Mixtura,’ I wanted to challenge the accepted musical formats that tells one that you need to record or perform in one specific genre, and to give the artists complete freedom from labels or limits.”
While Mixtura was realized by a six-piece ensemble, Mason wanted to pare down the line-up for her follow-up, eager for more space to explore and greater opportunity for focused dialogue with her collaborators. But true to form, the idea of a traditional piano, bass and drums band felt too familiar. It was Neto’s left-field suggestion to experiment with vibes and bass, a format that has never been attempted before in the annals of jazz.
Despite its seeming limitations, the unique trio proves to be as thrilling as it is diverse. The joyful 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. 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.”
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 wrenching emotion stands in stark contrast to the buoyant swing of the trio’s take on Thelonious Monk’s “In Walked Bud.” The oft-recorded bolero “Inolvidable” is the vocalist’s nod to her Latinx 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, dueting 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.
Mason’s acting talents come to bear in her musical life as well, allowing her to fluidly segue between genres and emotions as if taking on a new role with each song. Triangle is 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.
“I respect Renato tremendously as a musician,” Mason says. “He has impeccable taste. But the most important aspect of our relationship is trust. When you work with a producer, you’re putting your baby into their hands. I really trusted that Renato would take care of it and bring it to its best potential.”
As soon as she determined to act on Neto’s offbeat suggestion, Mason knew that she had to find just the right musicians to realize such an improbable sound. In Locke she enlisted one of the leading voices on the instrument, a versatile and virtuosic 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.
Triangle is currently available for pre-order at Amazon, iTunes, Apple Music and will be available to stream on all platforms including Spotify. To pre-order and for more info, please visit: www.bluecanoerecords.com/triangle