January 1, 1970Just one story again this week, a profile of the singer-composer Mili Bermejo, who moved to Boston from Mexico City to attend the Berklee College of Music in 1980, joined the faculty upon her graduation four years later, and has remained there ever since. Plus a short item on a two-CD compilation of the works of Wayne Shorter, out this week from Columbia/Legacy.
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She overcame grief with words, music
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | November 19, 2004
Mili Bermejo's lovely and heartfelt new CD, "A Time for Love," was born out of sorrow and loss. In January of last year, her younger brother, Miguel, died suddenly of a heart attack at 48. The next month, her father, Mexican composer Guillermo Bermejo, succumbed to cancer. Her pianist on the album, Bruce Barth, lost his mother about the same time.
"This particular project has a lot of history," says Bermejo by phone from her Cambridge apartment. "Through all of that dark period — January, February of last year — I wrote a bunch. And then we went to the studio in a very fragile moment. The album probably has a certain directness more than other albums, and that was why."
Boston will get the chance to hear music from the album at Old South Church tonight, when Bermejo, bassist Dan Greenspan (her husband and longtime collaborator), and pianist Vardan Ovsepian perform a benefit concert for Community Works, preceded onstage by the VariAsians, the Handel and Haydn Society Youth Chorus, and the Rosie's Place Jazz Choir.
Barth will miss the benefit because of a prior commitment, but Bermejo and Greenspan are looking forward to having Ovsepian fill in, based on a few rehearsals and on Greenspan's having worked regularly with the pianist in duet gigs at the Four Seasons Hotel.
Most of the new CD was written by Bermejo herself. It mixes Spanish and English lyrics with Bermejo's graceful, wordless vocal improvisations. The music itself blends classical, Latin American folk, and jazz influences.
Highlights include a cover of Abbey Lincoln's tribute to Miles Davis, "Bird Alone"; a medley of Bermejo's own "Are You There?" and Ruben Rada's "La Rama," dedicated to Bermejo's late brother; and "La Nia de Guatemala," based on text from the Cuban poet Jose Marti. Bermejo had written "La Nia" in the early 1970s for a TV documentary about Marti, and Greenspan rearranged it for the new album.
Bermejo breathed new life into a composition of her brother's, "El Maleficio de la Mariposa" ("The Spell of the Butterfly"), written for a Mexican production of the play of that name by Federico Garcia Lorca. "He sang that song so beautifully," she says, "and when he went, the only thing I wanted to do is transcribe it."
It was Miguel who sparked Bermejo's interest in jazz back home in Mexico City by playing her records by Miles Davis. By that point she was studying classical composition at the National Music Conservatory, having grown up in a family of professional musicians. ("The rules at home were: 'Good tone, never out of tune, don't get out of the groove.'")
A Mexico City concert by Ran Blake led to her doing a two-month summer course in jazz at New England Conservatory in the summer of 1978. She doubled back to Boston two years later to enroll at Berklee, was offered a faculty position upon her 1984 graduation, and is still teaching voice there.
Her future husband arrived in Boston about the same time as Bermejo, with a similar late-blooming interest in jazz. He studied jazz bass at NEC under Miroslav Vitous and Dave Holland and began playing in a band with Bermejo within weeks of moving to town.
Their romantic involvement didn't happen until later, but now they've been married 18 years and have put out a half-dozen CDs together. Greenspan takes credit for pushing his wife in an acoustic direction early on, to take full advantage of her "amazing voice" and "huge range of color."
"When the music is acoustic, you can hear the lyrics," he says. "The older you get, the more important that becomes."
That's all the more so on the new disc. "A Time for Love" was cathartic for Bermejo, who says she often puts feelings in song better than she can put them in conversation.
"Now I feel much better, and life has become even more precious," she says. "My father's words were always 'You were born with a gift, and your responsibility in life is to develop it.' Period. And I guess that formed us all."
Wayne's world: "Footprints: The Life and Music of Wayne Shorter," the two-disc retrospective out this week from Sony , makes a strong case for Shorter, 71, as jazz's greatest living composer and improviser.
Certainly the range of his work covers more ground stylistically than that of other top contenders. The 22 tunes include his lasting 1960s work with Miles Davis's second great quintet, represented here by "E.S.P.," "Nefertiti," and the set's title cut. But there is much more to consider, and it all gets sampled here: his stint as musical director of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, his own much-admired early albums, fusion explorations with Davis and Weather Report, his exquisite collaboration with Brazilian vocal great Milton Nascimento, and his brilliant current quartet. That's not to mention stints as a hired-gun sax soloist for Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, and J.J. Johnson.
As Shorter says in the notes: "This compilation represents the DNA of my full life and work. Those who listen closely will hear a sample of the whole story here."
The Mili Bermejo Trio will headline "A Time for Love," Community Works’ seventh annual benefit concert, at the Old South Church, 645 Boylston St., tonight at 7. $25 ($15 for students and seniors, pending availability). Call 617-262-1831.
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company