Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Music Review: “Afropean Affair” by Oscar Perez & Nuevo Comienzo

I received this CD in the middle of last week, got busy and didn’t give it a listen until last night when the calendar alarm told me today was it’s release date. So, I put it on last night while finishing a book and trying to fight off the Oregon autumn rain and it’s accompanying chill with a soak in the hot tub. About sixty seconds into it, my attention was jerked away from the book. I thought I’d grabbed an Oscar Peterson CD or maybe post bop McCoy Tyner or Chick Correa or Bill Evans. I carefully placed the glass of wine aside, set the book on a dry spot, and cussed myself as I climbed back out of the ho tub to correct my mistake.

No mistake, except in waiting nearly a week to listen to it. I got back in the tub, book forgotten, eyes drawn to the liner notes,  and gave it my undivided attention. It is addictive. It is infectious. Fresh, yet somehow familiar. This is what jazz, forget ‘Latin jazz, but just what jazz is supposed to be.

As the title suggest, Afropean Affair has African and Caribbean influences, Oscar Perez grew up on Cuban jazz, but the classical influences of Europe are there as are the 60’s American jazz of some of those musicians I mentioned above. Further, all the songs were composed by Perez. They are wonderful compositions, harmonically challenging, yet accessible to the casual listener. The over all feel is of sophistication, respect for roots of the music with out being bound by tradition.

Oscar Perez & Nuevo Comienzo (New Beginnings)

The band is also stunning in talent and execution, Stacy Dillard is on tenor and soprano sax, Greg Glassman on trumpet and flugelhorn, Emiliano Valerio holds down the percussion, Jerome Jennings is the drummer and the guy who captivated this frustrated bass player is Oscar’s younger brother, Anthony. The band is tight, controlled but capable of soaring when improv is called for.

The opening tune, “The Illusive Number” glides in and out  of different time signature like an Olympic skier on a slalom course. It is so smoothly executed, the judges must be holding up cards with all tens.

On the second tune, “Canaria” the sax and the horn start off establishing the melody, where you’d expect the piano to handle that task, but Perez comes in with both a Fender Rhodes and acoustic. It’s great, “airy” stuff. then, before getting to the main event, the group cools down with is “As Brothers Would” then moves into a smartly intense tune, “Paths and Streams”.

The signature, or titular piece to this sultry album that marries Latin Jazz with post bop to create a new genre is “The Afropean Suite” Perez was commissioned to write this work which premiered in 2009. Charenee Wade lends her voice to the suite as an instrument. The suite has to be heard to describe it’s beauty, fluidity and energy.

As an aside here, it’s interesting to note the way this “type of music” and composition came about. The Recording Academy in it’s infinite wisdom decided to do away with the Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album in their annual awards. As you can imagine, this has spawned outrage amongst music lovers in general and jazz musicians in particular. But, it also spurred a new generation of musicians to erase the old distinctions between straight ahead jazz and Latin jazz. The forms have begun to merge, with Latin percussion finding it’s way into mainstream jazz ensembles, and more traditional instrumentation finding it’s way into Latin jazz arrangements. That may be the driving force behind  the emergence of talented young jazz composers and musicians like Oscar Perez and Nuevo Comienzo – the bands name means New Beginnings, but talent this immense would have found it’s own vice anyhow.

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

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