Pianist Lynne Arriale has just released her newest -- and perhaps finest -- CD. It's a trio session called "Arise" that showcases the chemistry of her decade-old group with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Steve Davis.
She is a wonderful player and arranger who wrote four of the nine tunes for the project, which is filled with the sparkling clarity that graces her music.
It also is a perfect fit for the new San Francisco-based Motema Music label. In Lingala, a language from Congo and Zaire in central Africa, "motema" means "heart."
The CD has much to offer in the breadth and range of material. The title track, "Arise," is an uplifting ballad of hope and promise.
Arriale, interviewed during the final leg of a month-long European tour that began in Paris and zigzagged through Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Ireland, said she originally called the tune "For the Heroes" after Sept. 11, 2001.
"But I extended it in my mind to everyday heroes, who go the extra mile, who stay open despite the challenges in this new world," she told United Press International.
Tunes very much related to the CD theme include her own Spanish-tinged "Esparanza," which means hope, "Upswing" and "The Fallen," which has a very somber melody.
Her other gems include reconstructions of Egberto Gismonti's "Frevo," Bill Withers' "Lean On Me" and the old Guess Who hit, "American Woman," which originally was a war protest tune -- if you listened closely to the pop lyrics rather than the catchy melody.
Arriale's rearrangement of the latter tune is so artful it is not apparent what the tune is until she's nearly done with it.
"The melody stays the same, but the grating, raunchy bass line changes the feel," she said.
As an explorer of music and a writer of songs, the Indiana-based Arriale has one overriding principle.
"Music is an international language that transcends boundaries and cultures, " she said. "I want to find music that transcends boundaries on a heart level."
Arriale was the 1993 winner of the Great American Jazz Piano Competition. Her trio will bring its music to South Carolina and Charleston's acclaimed Spoleto Arts Festival. Additional performances will be in: Iowa; Bloomington, Ind.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; St. Paul, Minn.; Louisville, Ky.; New York; California; Boston and Montreal on spring and summer tours.
"There are full houses every where we play. Everyone is coming out to hear music," she said. "We're really happy that we're reaching audiences.
"I was lucky to meet Steve and Jay. If you experience life together, it just deepens over time. We play music without boundaries, without category. No matter whether it's Herbie Hancock, Monk, Bernstein or Sting, people resonate to melody. It stays in our tune choices.
"Every day, every performance is different. Everything is constantly changing because of life's influences. The light switch is always turned on. These guys give 100 percent, and are immersed and engaged in the music. It is something beyond musical competence. There's an energy and color the audience can pick up on," Arriale said.
Arriale feels right at home at her new label, Motema. Her manager, New Yorker Suzi Reynolds, is head of Artists and Repertoire for the new venture. Its founder, San Francisco-based singer Jana Herzen, calls her venture an "artist-driven label."
"At a time record companies are not doing well, or suffering economically, they are doing special," Arriale said.
Motema signed Arriale after Herzen first heard her perform at the MIDEM international music conference in Cannes, France, in January 2001.
"Though she played the piano and not a sound came from her lips, I had the distinct impression that I was watching a singer," Herzen said.
Motema's first two releases have been jazz projects, though Herzen says it would be unfair to pigeonhole the label. Future sessions will include folk, Euro-pop, Afro-beat and the blues. Her own project, "Soup's on Fire!," is due out in July and will embrace many of those elements.
The first Motema CD, San Francisco drummer Babatunde Lea's "Soul Pools," is a stunning showcase for a musician Herzen called "the best-kept secret in the Bay Area."
His sextet session features trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy, pianist Hilton Ruiz, bassist John Benitez, saxophonist Mario Rivera and percussionist Kevin Jones. Herzen is guest vocalist on her original blues, "Round the World."
The recording also includes a second, single-track free CD of a live 25-minute quartet exploration of Wayne Shorter's classic composition "Footprints" by a Lea band with Ruiz, bassist Geoff Brennan and tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts. It captures much of the energy and amazing fire of an evening at Rasselas on Fillmore in San Francisco. It must have been one of those "jazz epiphany" kinds of nights for those who were lucky enough to catch the real deal.
Herzen says she got to know Lea when "he stepped into my band and lifted the musicianship of everybody up. The first step was getting his record together. Fate threw us together."
She has a performing arts administration background and went back into music because she found it was what she cared about most.
"I never wanted to start a label; I just wanted to stand behind a deserving artist," she said.
Herzen said she was able to start the label with an investment from her parents, Lee and Leonard and Leonore Herzenberg, genetics research scientists at Stanford University who had a windfall from a recent drug patent.
"The focus sounds Pollyannaish; an artist-driven label making art. What is amazing me is the way people are responding. We're not in the music business; we're in the inspiration business," Herzen said.
She has several more Motema projects in the pipeline, including CDs by Afro-Parisian producer and performer Shaka-Ra Mutela, who co-wrote the song, "Yaleo" on Carlos Santana's hit CD "Supernatural," and guitarist Peter Fujii.
Herzen chooses her artists the same way Arriale selects the songs she plays and writes. It depends whether they come from the heart and affect her deeply.