Usually when we talk of artists being “well-traveled,” it’s in reference to a frenetic touring schedule that takes them around the U.S. and overseas. A veteran triple threat pianist, flutist and vocalist who’s been a side-person for the likes of Bobby Watson, Earl Palmer, Clare Fischer Big Band and the late Richie Cole, Gaea Schell’s life choices redefine the term in a fascinating way.
While cultivating her passion for Latin jazz with much international traveling, the Alberta born musician has lived in Portland, OR, NYC, San Diego, L.A. and San Francisco. True to her lifelong attraction to exotic music and adventures, she spent the pandemic playing Cuban music and releasing sea turtle in Mexico, studying opera in Florence, completed a master’s degree in Vermont, won a Chamber Music America grant to work with pianist Benny Green and played with a group in western Cuba.
All this wild boppin’ around (take that both literally and figuratively) strongly influenced the sparkling inspirational magic and exciting sense of Latin energy and spirited swing on her long awaited third album In Your Own Sweet Way. The rhythmically diverse collection is at hart a true showcase for Schell’s talents as a multi-faceted instrumentalist (often soaring on flute and piano on the same track, as on “Forio Rain” and the opener “Cava Dell’isola”) and sometimes vocal interpreter on sweet, romantic arrangements of “It Had To Be You” and the Dave Brubeck-composed title track, featuring loving new lyrics she wrote for her boyfriend.
At its creative emotional core however, the set is driven by two key elements. First, her keen sense of melody and swing, masterful dexterity with Latin jazz (the sensual “Luna Plateada,” the contemplative and dramatic piano master class “Danza Nocturna De Flores), bossa nova (the sultry “Summer Sea”) and straight ahead jazz (the fast swinging, deeply percussive closer “Perplexity”); and second, her generous grace as a bandleader, interacting with and offering space for dynamic solos by her quartet of NoCal stalwarts - most notably, guitarist Jordan Samuels and guest trumpeter Marco Diaz, whose exuberant duet with Schell’s flute on “El Picacho” is a highlight.