Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The Recuperation Playlist (Part 1)

Life is often wild and crazy with all sorts of mayhem right outside your window, on your screens, and in your ears.  When the craziness moves indoors and becomes personal, one looks for escapes to give a sense of normalcy. We saw that in the pandemic where virtual concerts, streaming movies, and myriad television shows became even more of the "norm".  

On a personal level, my life got crazy this Summer with the need for Open Heart Surgery in July and, just this past week, contracting a case of COVID.  I thank the Doctors, Physicians Assistants, and nurses for their care over these past few months. I thank the higher powers for the music that has gotten me through the surgery, illness, and continued recuperation.

Haven't posted much but I have been listened to a lot of great music. Now, I plan to make several posts about the best of those albums (in no particular order).

As far as I am concerned, any new release by Miguel Zenón is cause for joy.  Since his debut album as a leader (in 2002), he has grown as a composer, arranger, and alto saxophonist. The native of San Juan, Puerto Rico also spent 14 seasons with the SF Jazz Collective and has recorded with a slew of artists from Kurt Elling to Charlie Haden to Fred Hersch to Antonio Sanchez and many more.  His long-tenured quartet includes pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Henry Cole, all of whom save Cole (who joined the ensemble in 2006) is as impressive as any working group playing today!

His latest release on Miel Music, his 15th as a leader or co-leader, is "Musica De Las Americas", a recording that illustrates how "American music" is an on-going fusion of elements from all corners of the American continent (North, Central, South and the Caribbean) and is tied to the rhythms that traveled in slave ships from Africa but also to the indigenous tribes the Spanish discovered when they arrived in the 15th Century.  Zenón composed all the pieces, not only giving the listener a stunning listening experience but also infusing this music with history. For instance, the opening track "Tainos y Caribes", tells the tale of two indigenous tribes who live in peace in the Caribbean and northeastern South America respectively who were wiped out within several decades after the arrival of the Conquistadors.  The powerful music, built upon the the polyrhythmic attack of Cole plus the thunderous piano and thrumming bass, paints a portrait of vibrant societies. 

Photo: Jimmy Katz
Four of the eight tracks feature guest percussionists. The silky smooth "Navegando (Las Estrellas Nos Guian") adds the five-person Los Pleneros De La Cresta who add not only exciting rhythms but also vocals to the story of the Indigenous tribes that traveled the waters of the Caribbean and Atlantic in handmade boats following the stars.  Percussionist Paoli Mejias pairs with Cole to create a vibrant backdrop for the powerful "Opresión y Revolución" (listen below), which draws on elements of Haitian Voodoo music to tells its story of uprising and self-rule (though the Haitians have paid an extremely steep price ever since). Victor Emmanuelli brings the Bomba drum (barril) into "Bambula", a song that illustrates how the drum the song is named for created a rhythmic pattern that once can hear in musical styles of Cuba, the Caribbean, Central America, New Orleans, and today's reggaeton. "Antillano" closes the album, celebrating the Antilles with young conga master Daniel Diaz helping to propel the playful bounce and sway of the music. 

Throughout "Musicas De Las Americas", Miguel Zenón and the band play with fire, abandon, and joy.  They build off each other's lines and emotions to create music that stands out for its spontaneity, celebrating the many and varied cultures of the American continent.  This is music played by a band that deserves to be seen and heard in person––go to https://miguelzenon.com/ to find out more and see where this most accomplished ensembles is appearing.  You'll also see that the saxophonist is playing with other ensembles over the next few months, all of which looks exciting. If you don't get out to see them, this wonderful new album will brighten your life!

Here's the Quartet with percussionist Paoli Mejias on "Operesión y Revolución":

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
Pianist and composer Pablo Ablanedo moved to the United States from his native Argentina in the early 1990s to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. After graduating, he stayed in the US forming an Octet in 1999 filled with New York City-based artists to play his original music.  Like his fellow Argentine Guillermo Klein, his music fuses influences from his homeland with the Black Creative Music he has come into contact over his 25+ years since moving. Over the course of four albums, Ablanedo has impressed listeners and reviewers with his ability to make music jumps with originality.

In 2019, Newvelle Records brought Ablanedo back into the studio with most of the musicians who helped to create his 2001 debut album "From Down There" for a follow-up.  The results, "Christeza", was issued as part of the label's Fifth Season and now is available as a download from the label's Bandcamp page (see below).  Take a look at the personnel––many have gone on in the two decades since uniting for the first album to have international careers as both leaders and sideman.  One thing that stands out for this listener is the immediacy of Ablandeo's compositions, whether it's the percussive ballad "La Señal" that opens the eight-song program (the digital version has a "bonus track") or the playful call-and-response of "Karmavaleando" or the gentle swaying of "Winter Variations" (note how the intensity picks up throughout the piece), the melodies and the rhythms are well-defined and build off each other.

While the compositions stand out, there is brilliant musicianship throughout as well. There's a touch of Thelonious Monk in Ablanedo's introduction to "Plaisantriste" which unwinds to a delightful clarinet solo from Anat Cohen. Do also listen to the smashing support of bassist Fernando Huergo, drummer Franco Pinna, and guitarist Ben Monder.  Ms. Cohen also stands out on "Ti Mi Do" as does violinist Jenny Scheinman. There's a tinge of Aaron Copland in the deliberate melody line and chords behind the front line and pay attention how the rest of the group enters behind the soloists.  The spotlight is on Ben Monder for "Bipolarious"––after the sharp-edged intro, the guitarist dances atop the ever-intensifying rhythm.  The title track has a mysterious, rubato, opening as if getting ready to go into "Sketches of Spain", especially when trumpeter Diego Urcola takes the lead; his long-held sparse notes keeps the mystery alive throughout the piece

The digital download closes "Christeza" with a rhythmic take on Kenny Dorham's "Una Mas". The brilliant rhythm section of Pinna and Huergo lead the way with tenor saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh (the only other member of the ensemble on the track) playing the theme as well as a powerful solo.  But, it's the bass and drums that makes this track stand out.  A delightful finish to a wonder-filled album. Pablo Ablanedo does not record very often but when he does, it's so rewarding to listen.  Kudos to the great band, to the composer, leader, and pianist, and to co-producers Elan Mehler and JC Morisseau for such fine modern music!

To find out more and to purchase the album, go to  https://pabloablanedo.bandcamp.com/album/chistreza. To find out more about the leader, go to www.pabloablanedo.com/

Hear "Karmavaleando": 


Pablo Ablanedo on piano, & compositions:
Anat Cohen on clarinet,
Jenny Scheinman on violin,
Chris Cheek on tenor and soprano saxophone,
Jerome Sabbagh on tenor and soprano saxophone, 
Diego Urcola on trumpet, 
Ben Monder on guitar, 
Fernando Huergo on electric bass, 
Franco Pinna on drums, 
Daniel Ian Smith on additional saxophones on "Karmavaleando" and "Bipolarious."

No comments:

Post a Comment