Sunday, May 21, 2023

Large Ensembles and Real Life (Part 1)


Brazilian native (Sao Paulo), saxophonist, composer, and arranger Felipe Salles came to the United States in 1995. Since then, he has worked with and led several different-sized ensembles and has taught at the University of Massachusetts/ Amherst for 13 years.  As a composer, he's been quite interested in the Immigrant experience in the United States––in 2020, Tapestry Records issued "The New Immigrant Experience", his second album with his large band, the Interconnections Ensemble (their 2018 release, "The Lullabye Project", was based around tunes from the composer's Brazilian upbringing). The "...Immigrant Experience" is a multi-media project that combines Salles's powerful compositions with interviews featuring immigrants to the US as part of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).  The stories within the music are heart-breaking, emotional, stunning, and question the attitudes of politicians around the country who hold the future of these people hostage.

The 19-member Ensemble's latest project is "Home is Here" (Tapestry Records) and finds Salles writing intricate and vibrant pieces for eight guest artists, all of whom left their countries of origin to pursue their artistic dreams in the US.  The album opens with "Re-Invention", a vehicle for Paquito D'Rivera, the oldest guest in the project who, arguably, had the hardest journey to citizenship.  Listen below to how Salles blends Cuban rhythms into the body of the piece plus uses the ensemble to paint an evocative portrait. Rivera's joyous clarinet solo (like most if not all of his solos) dances with glee through the musical landscape. "World Citizen" finds Terry, the other Cuban ex-pat, in a less formal setting, one in which the drums and percussion push the proceedings forward.  The sensuous feel gives the soloists (bass trombonist Angel Subero and alto saxophonist Terry) just the right cushion (the setting for the sax solo has more fire but is positively effective).

The two tracks with vocals are quite different. Ms. Rei's moves easily through "Meridian 63", the mid-tempo "bouncing rhythm" supporting her voice as do the brass on the verse. Jonathan Ball's rollicking soprano sax gives the vocalist to scat along with the reeds and brass.  Quiet flutes lead the group in on "Two Worlds Together", a "dark" ballad featuring Ms. Herrera. Note how Salles uses the sections to provide a gentle response to the huskiness of the wordless vocal. However, the emotion displayed by Ms. Herrera gives Tyler Burchfield's bass clarinet solo its focal point while freeing up the vibraphone playing of Luke Glavanovits.  

"Home is Here" comes to a close with "Storytelling". After a quiet opening, the rhythm section propels the piece forward with tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana leading the ensemble through the theme.  At the close of guitarist Kevin Grudeki's solo, the ensemble drops out and Ms. Aldana steps out for a short, lovely, solo.  She then leads the band back in to support her soaring and exuberant solo.  The full-throated music reminds the listener that many musicians from other parts of the world, including Felipe Salles, have made their mark in this "Promised Land" thankful for the artistic freedom that the United States provides, finding their voice in the Creative Music. We listeners are thankful for the many sounds these artists have brought to our lives.  

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Here's the opening track:

Felipe Salles conductor and composer, soprano saxophone on one track;
Saxophones and woodwinds; Jonathan Ball, John Mastroianni, Mike Caudill, Carl Clements, Tyler Burchfield; 
Trumpets and flugelhorns; Don Clough, Jeff Holmes, Seth Bailey, Bill Fanning, Jerry Sabatini; 
Trombones; Clayton DeWalt, Randy Pingrey, Bob Pilkington, Angel Subero; 
Nando Michelin, piano
Kevin Grudecki, guitar
Luke Glavanovits, vibraphone
Keala Kaumeheiwa, bass
Bertram Lehmann,  drums/percussion.

Paquito D'Rivera (Cuba) – clarinet & alto saxophone
Sofia Rei (Argentina) – voice
Jacques Schwarz-Bart (Guadeloupe/France) – tenor saxophone
Nadje Noordhuis (Australia) – flugelhorn
Magos Herrera (Mexico) – voice
Yosvany Terry (Cuba) – alto saxophone & shekere
Chico Pinheiro (Brazil) – guitar
Melissa Aldana (Chile) – tenor saxophone

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