A delightful whimsy surrounds the room where 1 de Mayo descends, like a diaphanous sheet of sound amid its celestial wail. So extraordinary is the musical ensemble fronted by the hypnotic sound of Mercedes Figueras’ saxophones; doubly intriguing when entwined with the ululations and caterwauling ablutions of Tony Larokko’s horns. Mercedes Figueras is one of the most exciting saxophonists today. Enormously talented and with a voice as brilliantly eccentric as an exotic Amazonian bird, or in this instance, a very special black butterfly, she is unique among young musicians playing today. Her intonation is sharp and exacting and draws the fluidity out of every note she plays. She is capable of impossible whoops and graceful flights from a note in the lower register of, say, a soprano horn to a shrill leaping flurry of notes that take her ideas to dizzying heights. Her solos begin in linear, logical fashion, and then almost imperceptibly, she flutters into a different plane—almost into a dimension that did not seem to exist a moment ago.
Figueras’ music is steeped in the vast and swelling sea of Latin American rhythms. She often finds the tango and the huayno irresistible and can make the dusty shuffle of a Caribbean beat come alive with a rare blend of outrageous arrhythmic skitter. On “1 de Mayo” for instance, the song is painted with the broad brushstrokes of a bolero, but then over coated with the fiery saxophone that rushes like warm air to fill the expectant ear. “Afro Blue,” Mongo Santamaria’s swaggering Caribbean classic is brilliantly interpreted with a multicoloured rhythmic palette, with Figueras and the ever so brilliant Tony Larokko so much so that it pays homage not just to a legion of musicians who have played this song, but also to the rhythms that have propelled it from one era to the next. Figueras is also unafraid to call upon the atonal lamentations of mystical proportions.
“Pipi’s Blues” is a leaping, flowing kind of piece that comes from an inspired pen. The gushing melody is embellished by a dancing kind of harmony unlike much of the music heard today, with the stop-start rhythms of rap and hip-hop. Tony Larokko’s two compositions certainly are among the several highlights of this exquisite album. “Spiritual Travels” swivels on a kind of mystical hop that enables the song to pirouette with a melodic invention that is guided by a rhythm as vital as a heartbeat. “Yah-Yah,” a hypnotic chant echoing with the flashing brilliance of all things natural features “Ojos Azules” a haunting Bolivian huayno sung by Figueras as well as, a lyrical tango, “Volver” also voiced almost Soto voce by the intriguing saxophonist.
It is probably only fitting for a marvellous record of music that seems to encompass the earth, should end with a track called “Music Heals All Wounds,” which even as it might sound a somewhat autobiographical note, soon assumes majestic proportions as the musicians complete their extraordinary, shamanistic and ultimately mystical musical sojourn.
Tracks: 1 de Mayo; Afro Blue; Pipi’s Blues; Spiritual Travels; Yah-Yah; Music Heals All Wounds.
Personnel: Mercedes Figueras: soprano, alto and tenor saxophones; Tony Larokko: soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, percussion; Fred Berryhill: percussion, djembe; Bopa “King” Carre: percussion, congas; Nick Gianni: upright bass; Dan Tepfer: keyboards; Kenny Wollesen: drums.
The Black Butterflies on the web: www.theblackbutterflies.com
Review written by: Raul da Gama