Review written by: Raul da Gama
There is a sensuous, almost bordering on lustful, quality to the music on Una Más by the big band, AfroBop Alliance. Not that it is a bad thing at all; quite the contrary, the viscosity of the music is a result of the molten mix of bronzed horns and beautifully clouded woodwinds with elementally raw drums and percussion. The result is a saffron-coloured paella of swirling contra-danzas and soaring son-montuno and on event, a wistful bolero; even a stately maracatú (some Afro-Brazilian thrown into the leading melody of “El Niño”) that is kept hot with bubbling energy by the drummer and percussion-colourist, and leader, Joe McCarthy as well as the celebrated timbalero, Roberto Quintero. Oddly enough it takes the also-sensuous, but infinitely softer approach to the vibes and the marimba by Dave Samuels that keeps the music from getting too heated and out of control.
As the percussionists play off each other’s personalities—especially when batá drums come into play—the wall of saxophones (especially the gravity-driven baritones) playing in ululating abundance together with the droning, smoking trombones lights the music aflame. This roaring fire is fed by the trumpets and alternately doused by the sprinkling cool of the gilt-edged vibes and/or the marimba as it introduces the piano and sometimes the guitar and rolling bass. The music then takes on a rich narrative, the story-telling of which continues from song to song. Hence the apparent chapter and verse of the titles following from “The Gathering,” “The Floating World,” the utterly beautiful chart, “The Avid Listener” and “Cherry Blossom”. But this is a story that criss-crosses Latin America, following a line from Africa through Portugal and Spain, Brazil and Cuba, Argentina and so on… Moreover—and here lies the exquisite surprise—the musical griots also paint vivid pictures with a brilliant manipulation of tonal palettes of the instruments used in a most painterly fashion.
Percussionists have a natural tendency to play with pulses and tempos and this creates the illusion of timelessness, brought about no doubt by the fibrillating of the skin of the drum as well as by the continuous hiss of the cymbal after it has been struck with soul. Also the shape-shifting edifice of the percussion; the surprising and sometimes abrupt changes in rhythm itself bring a gasping quality to the music. From Benny Golson’s montunofied “Along Came Betty” right down to the wire of “Viva Cepeda” these changes in rhythm that break and pierce through the swelling ocean of other brass and woodwinds make this music utterly unforgettable. The towering moments come in the gasping changes on “El Otoño”. Which brings everything, de capo, back to percussion and lustfulness; when it comes to music this is not, after all, so much of a bad thing, but altogether desirable.
Track Listing: 1. Golpe de Cumaco (Impression 10); 2. El Niño; 3. The Gathering; 4. The Floating World; 5. The Avid Listener; 6. Cherry Blossom; 7. Along Came Betty; 8. El Otoño; 9. Viva Cepeda.
Personnel: Steve Williams: lead alto, and soprano saxophones; Andy Axelrad: alto saxophone; Luis Hernandez: tenor; Vince Norman: tenor, soprano and baritone saxophones; Daryl Brenzel: baritone saxophone; Chris Walker: lead trumpet; Alex Norris: trumpet; Greg Reese: trumpet; Tim Stanley: trumpet; Ben Patterson: trombone; Joe Jackson: trombone; Rhoades Whitehill: trombone; Jeff Cortazzo: trombone; Harry Appelman: piano; Tim Murphy: piano (4); Jim Roberts: guitars; Mike Pope: basses; Joe McCarthy: drums, bells, timbale; Roberto Quintero: congas, percussion; Dave Samuels: vibraphone and marimba.
Related links: AfroBop Alliance on the web: www.afrobop.com