This is one of those CDs that somehow gets to your hands and even though you might not know the artist, you’re glad you decided to check it out.
Michelle is a South Bay native that has been in the Bay Area music scene for several years, participating in bands of various musical genres, eventually being attracted to Latin rhythms. She worked with musicians like Chepito Areas (Santana’s original percussionist/arranger) and collaborated with percussionist John Santos in the Zarate Pollace Project (ZPP), a band she co-lead with guitarist Abel Zarate (who also wrote songs for Malo and Willie Bobo).
“New Beginning”, Michelle’s first solo album, contains 10 songs most of them originals, with 2 notable exceptions; “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “La Comparsa”, the latter from the late Cuban legend Ernesto Leucona and popularized more recently by another late Cuban pianist, Bebo Valdes.
What I Liked About “New Beginning”
Good Original Songs – to me this is the test of an artist. Playing covers is a good way to display an artist’s talent, but you only get to know how good is their art when they play original material. I liked the original material in “New Beginning” as it showcases how Michelle can combine the jazz elements with the Latin rhythms that attract her.
- Two Good Classic Songs – when your grandfather was a pianist that had the opportunity to perform with Judy Garland in a hotel, that gives you the motivation to include a version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in your solo debut album. Michelle does a great job in her version of this classic, even when it does not start that impressively (I’ll get into that in the next section). “La Comparsa” is a great piano selection for Latin music, and Michelle puts her own spin to it, making it almost a Cuban “son” the 2nd part of the song. I have to say that I haven’t heard a better version than Bebo and Chucho Valdes interpretation of it in the “Calle 54” documentary.
- Michelle’s Band Format – I liked the musical lineup Michelle used for “New Beginning”. Besides the bass (David Belove) and drums (Phil Hawkins), Michelle also adds a sax (Kristen Strom), and some Latin percussion in Carlos Caro, and Michaelle Goerlitz. She mixes the band’s configuration depending on the song.
Suggestions to Michelle on “New Beginning”
The Start – the first few notes of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” are not very impressive, and it almost gives the impression of Michelle using her keyboard’s programmed rhythms to accompany her in the song. That feeling dissipates away within the 1st minute of the song, but you must get over that feeling to enjoy the rest of the song and the album.
- “First Flight” – This song didn’t do much for me. It’s way too slow and non-eventful to prevent me from skipping to the next song.
My Recommendation of “New Beginning”
I found “New Beginning” to be a nice Latin Jazz album discovery because it had great originality and variety which kept me interested throughout its duration. If you’re looking for something original off the beaten path (but not too far off), then you will enjoy Michelle Pollace’s “New Beginning”.