Jason Vieaux and Julien Labro: Infusion
Azica Records

Infusion is distinguished by the virtuosic playing of guitarist Jason Vieaux and bandoneónist and accordionist Julien Labro, but it's the imaginative choice of material that makes their second duo album something truly special. That a piece by Astor Piazzolla (“Escualo”) appears doesn't come as a major surprise, considering that Labro's a bandoneón player and that their 2011 debut album was dedicated to Argentine's tango master (The Music of Astor Piazzolla, Azica Records); less expected is the presence of stellar interpretations of Pat Metheny's “Antonia” (Secret Story, 1992) and Tears for Fears' “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (Songs From the Big Chair, 1985).

Better yet, Vieaux and Labro bring an equally high level of conviction to all the material, no matter its origin. Another artist might have handled the Tears for Fears' song, for example, ironically; in Vieaux and Labro's hands, the song soars as magnificently as anything else on the hour-long recording. Adding to its appeal, Radamés Gnattali's four-part Suite Retratos brings bassist Peter Dominguez and percussionist Jamey Haddad into the fold, a move that in turn nudges Infusion away from the formal classical tone of Cuban composer Leo Brouwer's Tres Danzas Concertantes towards a less studied, jazz-inflected style. As should already be obvious, Vieaux and Labro comfortably inhabit any number of genres, be it jazz, classical, or rock, and do so with high energy.

Brouwer's three-part work provides an excellent scene-setter in the way it highlights the duo's deft interplay and the ease with which they segue between spirited episodes (“Toccata”) and graceful slower passages (“Andantino (Quasi Allegretto)”). With Dominguez and Haddad providing muscular support, Gnattali's Suite Retratos soothes like a warm, tropical breeze as it moves from the entrancing splendour of “Pixinguinha” and lustrous “Ernesto Nazareth” to the vivacious “Chiquinha Gonzaga” (where Labro even sneaks in a smidgen of zydeco). At certain moments during Gnattali's piece, you might find your thoughts drifting to Django Reinhardt when presented with Vieaux's deft fingerwork or picturing yourself at some small cafe in Brazil being serenaded by the duo's romantic expressions.

Certainly one of Metheny's loveliest compositions, “Antonia” is given a stirring reading by the duo, Labro on accordina exploiting to full advantage the tune's singing melodies and wistful character. But Vieaux and Labro also invest their deliciously swinging performance with a rhythmic urgency that, during the central section in particular, elevates it above a rote, by-the-numbers cover. In a manner that will be familiar to aficionados of his music, Piazzolla's “Escualo” shimmers with dramatic outpourings of emotional longing and sensuality, and in one of the album's most inspired moves Vieaux and Labro thread a few bars of Bob Marley's “Could You be Loved” (Uprising, 1980) into the arrangement. At album's end, the duo amplifies the already jubilant tone of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” with a heartfelt, freewheeling performance that identifies the song as a natural encore selection.

Vieaux and Labro are exceptionally versatile and expressive players who demonstrate throughout Infusion a connectedness that's veritably telepathic, and being technically at the highest level (Vieaux's solo album, Play, for instance, won the 2015 Grammy for ‘Best Classical Instrumental Solo') they have little difficulty bringing the album's through-composed material to life. But they also show themselves to be adept improvisers; during the third part of Suite Retratos, “Anacleto de Medeiros,” for instance, they dazzle as soloists and in the fluidity with which they segue from unison playing to individual statements.

December 2016