There is something quite exquisite in a deeply primordial and seductive manner about Mercedes Figueras and The Black Butterflies’ Rainbows for Ramon. This comes from the luscious echo of the gloriously soaring saxophones of Figueras and the growl and wail of Larokko’s reeds.
This is melded in with the lithe and dancing vibraphone of Karl Berger and the glue that holds all of this together is the raw, sinewy percussion mashed in with Kenny Wollesen’s drums and the beating heart of Nick Gianni’s incessant bass. Although the “jungle” effects of the introduction to “The 3 Monkeys” is short, the ghostly rhythmic pattern lasts a long time and in felt like a spirit-backdrop throughout the hypnotic music that follows. This is not only carried on throughout the opening track, but throughout the album, as a matter of fact.
Mercedes Figueras has much to do with the primordial effect that the music has on the listener. Figueras is a singular voice. Her dry, relatively vibrato-less tone is large and all-encompassing. She appears to have a very large pair of lungs and a deep soul. This accounts for the magnificent and larger-than-life tone that gushes past the reeds. Figueras is extremely articulate. She can play angrily and calmly; sadly and joyfully when the script demands it. She can blow a beautiful narrative when the music demands it, or steeped in pure emotion when she is digging deep. Her annunciation is sensual whatever she does and in this respect she owes much to Pharoah Sanders, who appears to be a mentor, for there is no one else she channels when she plays. Remarkably, she plays off a sublimely different spirit: Tony Larokko. The saxophonist is sometimes barely discernably, but upon listening more deeply Larokko’s own voice emerges. Larokko plays with a sonorous, bright tone and is often the sparkling brightness that adorns the songs, especially on “Rainbows for Ramon” and “Wind Chimes”.
There is something else that is absolutely enchanting about Mercedes Figueras’ music. Her melodies are almost deceptively simple and childlike. In reality she navigates a course that is cut like a deep groove in the soul. Figueras digs deep. She does not rely on being pretty although she might sound like that sometime. In reality, she is an extremely soulful musician and everything she does—from the Latin-inflected balladry of “Summertime” to the glorious festivities of “Wind Chimes,” “Lumkili” and “Balafon Madness: Africa meets China” Figueras digs deep and emerges with an overriding soulful swing. This is also beautifully evident on “Rainbows for Ramon,” a superb collision between the polyrhythms of Africa and the polyphonics of European modes. Much of this has to do with the influence of Karl Berger, who looms large not only on his own chart, “Together” but throughout the album as well. Berger adds much colour to the already spectacular and proverbial “rainbow” motif as once again the Black Butterflies and Mercedes Figueras create an album of music that is so different that it is absolutely riveting.
Tracks: Intro to The 3 Monkeys; The 3 Monkeys; Together; Summertime; Rainbows for Ramon; Wind Chimes; Lumkili; Balafon Madness Africa Meets China.
Personnel: Mercedes Figueras: soprano, alto and tenor saxophones; Tony Larokko: soprano and alto saxophones, percussion; Nick Gianni: upright bass; Levi Barcourt: piano; Bopa “King” Carre: bongos; Fred Berryhill: djembe, percussion; Kenny Wollesen: drums, percussion; Karl Berger: vibes, melodica.
The Black Butterflies – Official Website: www.theblackbutterflies.com/
Release date: June 2012
Reviewed by: Raul da Gama