Jazz With An Accent: A New Release, Coming Attractions and Better-Late-Than-Never

By Fernando Gonzalez

A New Release

Silvano Monasterios

Unconditional (Savant)

It might strike as a paradox, but sometimes the brilliance of certain inventions can be measured by how obvious, how commonplace they seem.

The music of Venezuelan pianist Silvano Monasterios is so easy-on-the-ear, so elegantly structured, and has such a casual, lived-in feel that it takes a bit to catch on to how sophisticated his work truly is. It’s only after awhile that one  notices the harmonic turns, the storytelling soloing, or his rhythmic vocabulary, especially his discreet use of traditional Venezuelan styles.

Unconditional is Monasterios’ fourth album, and his choices suggest that he feels no need to accommodate any conventional expectations about how Latin jazz should sound. Whatever someone might argue to be some essence of “Latin,” is here integrated into the overall sound. To list the parts is to miss the whole – and, one suspects, Monasterios’ intentions.

Leading a limber, efficient quintet — Troy Roberts, sax; Jon Dadurka, bass; Rodolfo Zuñiga, drums; and José Gregorio Hernández, percussion – Monasterios offers fusion with an accent, richly detailed, lyrical, and remarkably cliché-free.  Often, he explicitly draws on Venezuelan folk rhythms as the basis of a piece.  In “Sno’ Peas,” for example, he uses gaita zuliana, a rhythm original of the Zulia state which is danced at Christmas time.  The slow swinging  “Black Saint” draws from the traditional drumming for San Benito, a black saint.  He just as easily sets up a passage of straight ahead, driving swing for release or uses a Fender Rhodes to evoke a certain era. Or he might go all in the other direction and set up a straight-ahead hard-driving blowing vehicle such “Forgotten Gods;” or, as in the title track, write a classic jazz ballad in which the melody unfurls unhurriedly before the soloists take over and elaborate, telling their own stories.

The eight pieces in Unconditional are originals by Monasterios and, throughout, there is an arranger’s ear at work in the attention to detail, be it regarding song forms, the structuring of the soloing or the use of unexpected rhythmic shifts. In Monasterios’ music, fun and beauty unfold with a purpose – and jazz becomes an inch wider and deeper.

Check out his website – Silvano Monasterios – to find out more about this remarkable artist.

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 Coming Attractions

 *            Trumpeter and conguero Jerry González debuts with his new Madrid-based quartet on the eponymous Jerry González y el Comando de la Clave (Sunnyside). The release date for is August 30th.

Miguel Zenon

*          The new recording by Puerto Rican saxophonist Miguel Zenón, Alma Adentro (Marsalis Music)  features his update of ten classic songs, two by each Bobby Capó, Tite Curet Alonso, Pedro Flores, Rafael Hernandez, and Sylvia Rexach whom he aptly calls “the George Gershwins, Cole Porters and Jerome Kerns of Puerto Rican song.” It features his quartet plus a wind ensemble orchestrated by Argentine bandleader and long time friend Guillermo Klein. The release date is August 30th.

*            Navidad de Los Andes (Andean Christmas, ECM) by bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi, cellist Anja Lechner, and saxophonist Felix Saluzzi will be released September 20th. Lechner and Dino Saluzzi have been collaborating since the mid 1990s (Kultrum, Ojos Negros, El Encuentro).

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 Better-Late-Than–Never . . .

Released in the United States in April, Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick’s Skala (ECM) is a follow up of sorts to his 2008 release, The Door (ECM). It’s a larger ensemble and a broader palette, but size is not the point. What’s striking here is Eick’s pop approach in his writing (the sing-songy, catchy melodies often reinforce the notion of instrumental songs waiting for lyrics), the overall, often aggressive, driving energy, and the production (he gets co-producer credits).

The musical references in Skala are quite disparate. The beautiful, expansive title track, a wordless song that builds on Eick’s short, elegiac trumpet phrases and a muscular Jan Garbarek-influenced tenor solo by Tore Brunborg, turns out to have been influenced by Sting’s “Shape of My Heart.” And “Oslo,” which features two drummers churning a dense storm underneath, suggests Radiohead or late 70s Brian Eno exploding to a (sort of) go-go beat. And then Eick openly tips his hat to Joni Mitchell in the very un-Mitchell-like “Joni.”

Skala blurs the lines between jazz, the austere esthetics of ECM, and avant-pop – and each in its own way is better off for it.

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