It is rare indeed for the complex polyrhythms of Chile—indeed all of Latin America—to be so completely subsumed into what is clearly music beyond the blinding lines of genre than with the music of AfroMantra. This is one of New York’s most highly regarded ensembles comprising the Chilean-born master drummer, leader and founder, Alejandro García; the Cuban-born and wide-ranging magical bassist, Ariel De La Portilla; the fleet-fingering Norwegian-born soprano saxophonist, Ole Mathisen and the American born keyboard wizard, Mike Eckroth. AfroMantra’s career as a band spans more than a decade. On this recording, an album called The Other Side Of Mestizaje, not only does the ensemble explore horizons beyond the melting point of Afro-Latino polyrhythms, but the writing, by the drummer and leader, Alejandro García—Alex, as he has come to be called—is dazzling and complex, intellectually inebriating and moist and magisterial in its melodic and harmonic intent. The technical and idiomatic infinities of each instrument are magnificently exploited. In fact Mestizaje has become such a loaded idiom that the wild boarders of this mystical musical brew have come to sound like a magic potion, seemingly overflowing with both ancient wisdom and contemporary élan—style and vigor—that has become a fine mixture of music that is uniquely AfroMantra.
Alex García is completely steeped in the rhythms of Chile—of course he would be, being born there; but he also spent time in Cuba and thus became familiar with playing in the style of rumba, contradanza and the many other rhythmic and melodic/harmonic forms there. His mastery of Brasilian forms such as marcha and maracaña, and other forms are clearly evident in some of the introductions he gives to some of the songs here. But he is best informed about the festejo and joropo, and of course, Andean music. It is not so much that Mr. García has a masterful knowledge of these and other folk forms; the fact is that he is able to communicate in a fine mixture of these. Conceptually, Mr. García has created music to reflect the effects of this magic potion—this Mestizaje that has melted into the music, stirred up into something of a shaman’s brew by the ineffable soprano saxophonist Ole Mathisen. Between the saxophonist and the masterful playing of keyboards player Mike Eckroth, an interminable melodic and harmonic dance is created in a manner so haunting—with the sustained voice of the Rhodes and the wild yearnings of the soprano saxophone—that being this side of Mestizaje is something akin to being under the spell of a musical shaman, who is, of course, Mr. García, together with his rumbling guide, bassist, Ariel De La Portilla.
The one thing you cannot afford to do, when listening to this music is to do so just once. The magic of “Mestizaje” comes magically alive in all of its fiery splendour. And even as “Azul Infinito” suggests something distant, the music demands that the listener shut out everything and succumb to the spell of the music in the here and now. The same could be said of “Landscape of Thought,” although the abstract nature of the title might suggest something languid, the fire of Afromantra drives this chart too. There is much more to discover, but these charts form the recordings centrepiece. Nevertheless it is hard to resist the vivid and beguiling music throughout the album.
Track List: Believe; 11:11 Spirit; Mestizaje; Azul Infinito; Coltranesque; Landscape of a Thought; Los Andes; Purple Man.
Personnel: Ole Mathisen: soprano saxophone; Mike Eckroth: Fender Rhodes; Ariel De La Portilla: electric bass; Alex García: drums, composition and arrangements.
Label: Afromantra Records | Release date: April 2014
AfroMantra was created in New York City more than a decade ago, by Chilean born-Cuban raised drummer, EMMY® Winner and composer, Alejandro “Alex” García. The band has been acclaimed by the critics for his masterful ability to combine in his compositions, rich harmonies with powerful rhythms and flavors of North and Latin America. AfroMantra incorporates a wide variety of Jazz elements into its work, creating a palate that highlights the group’s stirring inspiration and spiritual creativity. The group skillfully balances original compositions, drawing from Caribbean, American and South American traditions and influences. Read more…