LehCats, which is co-led by reed player Norbert Stachel and flutist-singer Karen Stachel, can be thought of as their version of World Jazz as reflected by the mixture of musical cultures that they experience in the San Francisco Bay area. The Stachels, who are joined by a variety of rhythm section players who bring in rhythms from across the globe, perform original melodies that reflect the influences of many cultures, particularly from Latin and South America with a taste of the Mideast (“Meshugaza”) and Africa.
Movement To Egalitaria salutes a fictional land where human rights reign supreme; sort of like the idealized (if somewhat lost) dream of the United States. Norbert Stachel is featured on flute, tenor (taking a fiery solo on “Step On It”), alto, soprano and bass clarinet while Karen Stachel is heard on flutes, piccolo and an occasional vocal. Among the other soloists who make strong impressions are pianists Axel Laugart and Edsel Gomez, guitarists Mike Stern (who is blazing on “Doppler Effect”) and Bob Lanzetti, and bassist Peter Washington. The large supporting cast includes such notables as drummer Lenny White, bassist Lennie Plaxico, guitarists Ray Obiedo and Will Bernard, and percussionist Pete Escovedo.
The music, even with its variety of rhythms, is primarily straight ahead (although with a few funkier selections), melodic and swinging. The fresh melodies, happy and optimistic vibes, and high musicianship make Movement To Egalitaria a musical journey well worth taking. Los Angeles Jazz Scene - Scott Yanow
LehCats: Movement to Egalitaria.
Although you may not know it Latin Jazz is making a rebound. It is on the up-and-up.
In 2011, for example, the Grammys doing away with the category of ‘Best Latin Jazz’ caused an uproar within the music industry. Many cried loud and hard and the award was reinstated a year later. In 2017, the industry seemed to balk at more recent developments within the genre, choosing instead to recognize older, established artist’s, such as pianist Chucho Valdes-who founded the legendary latin jazz band Irakere, bassist Andy Gonzalez, and trombonist Wayne Wallace.
So much for the Grammys. While those named above were trailblazers in their own right, each is over 60. They represented an earlier era and sound which would be considered classic Latin Jazz. But like other jazz sub-genres I have heard lately, Latin jazz has become a backbone, a caldron in which many other elements have been blended.
One possible reason? When a soloist performs, much of the shape of his/her improvisations is determined by the rhythm. The basic 4/4 jazz rhythm will cause a different kind of movement than, say, a samba or a bomba. This process is expertly executed in the work of Karen & Norbert Stachel-better known as LehCats (an anagram for Stachel)- on their recent CD Movement to Egalitaria.
Such is the case with many pieces on this CD, including the opening selection Soul Cha-Cha. The sixteen bar melody-with Karen featured on piccolo recalling the early Hubert Laws-gives way to series of loose yet deliberate exchanges between Karen and bassist Ricky Encarnacion. This track also proves that the use of the piccolo has reached the projection Laws made in 1965 that ‘despite its small size…the piccolo will someday give the flute some real competition’
Title track Movement to Egalitaria, sets forth a political/cultural goal of an egalitarian vision. Beginning with a dark mood, almost M-Base in its structure suggesting a current dark, hopeless world for many of us, the tune moves into more festive, upbeat traditional Latin Rhythms.
Karen’s telling vocals are featured on Sunshine. Her affection comes through despite some lacking vocal technique. A short, at times perpendicular piano solo from Edsel Gomez follows, then another change in rhythm gives Norbert-on Tenor- the opportunity to exchange breaks with his wife on piccolo. His Brecker-ish tone is contemporary, but not ‘smooth’.
Doppler Effect is something else again. Though the rhythm is traditional, long melodic statements are backed by electric bass and guitar which suggest the influence of fusion, if not heavy metal. Mike Stern-one of several top-drawer players on the date-has a powerful solo. He is, of course, a fusion veteran having worked with Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius and others.
Mandela is another tune of contrasting moods: Down and yet celebratory in this, the 100th anniversary of the great South African activist, prison detainee and president.
The appropriately titled 9 lives (shouldn’t it be 18?) is tune that is in straight 4/4 time. Karen’s mysterious and sultry- quasi-scat vocals dubbed in unison with her flute playing is a most effective contrast to the feel of the other selections. Then Gomez plays a solo which tiptoes around his influences, Hancock and Tyner, yet is artistically original enough to be called his own. Norbert then executes a rare feat: A bass flute solo. The use of the upper register of the instrument makes me wonder why he did not use an alto or C flute. Perhaps the timbre plus the contrasting, occasional use of the lower register of the instrument is why. A thematic interlude is followed by brief solo by guitarist Bob Lanzetti which takes out the tune. His tone-in contrast to Stern-is that of a traditional jazz guitarist, such as Kenny Burrell or Grant Green.
Shifting rhythms and a dynamic solo by Norbert-at times reminiscent of Lenny Pickett-characterize Step On It. The tune ends on an unresolved tonic.
Celia’s Bomba features a solo by Karen which is more reminiscent of the sound of the ‘60’s-at least to my ears. Its changing rhythms, however, are ear catching and perhaps stylistically more contemporary.
Goodbye Elgin Park-again a more traditional jazz tune in 4-is a warm vocal ballad sung by Karen. It makes compelling use of devices which make traditional jazz ballads romantic, but not saccharine: Blues, swing, dissonance and fine solos by pianist Gomez and veteran N.Y. bassist, Peter Washington. Master drummer Lenny White-late of 70’s fusion band Return to Forever, but also more traditional/modern jazz artist’s Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson- is on hand.
Meshugaza has a compelling eastern sound and a propulsion which gives it a quasi-radical quality. Pianist Gary Fisher explores several different harmonic directions in his short, but compelling solo. Gimmick-free use of effects characterize the solo by guitarist Will Bernard.
The CD closes with the syncopated rhythm-horn interaction of Mopar’s Song, a decidedly traditional Latin rhythm; yet more contemporary melodically and thematically.
Some have recently suggested that Latin Jazz has a surge in creativity because of looser, pure and less academic sounding quality than traditional jazz. While this may be true, Mr. & Mrs. Stachel prove on Movement to Egalitaria that when one blends the virtues of ethnic purity, virtuoso musicianship and mix those in the caldron with a variety of classic and contemporary ideas to support a vision of hope, the future of Latin Jazz can only be a bright one." Cadence Jazz Magazine - Fred Kellogg
"And now for something completely different--a mostly solo set of flute for Christmas "And of the Son". Inspired by her work in hospices, Stachel gives a soulful (but not soul music) reading to the holiday classics (with a ringer slipped in) that’s firmly a set with both feet in the new acoustic music camp as opposed to new age etc. The kind of holiday music you want to hear when things are quieting down and you feel reflective (but not morose), this album’s simple charms are enough to soothe the savage beast. Wildly wining in ways you wouldn’t expect from directions you wouldn’t guess. Check it out." Chris Spector - Midwest Record