When musicians with strong personalities and voices collide, it is often the case that the communal importance of music is forgotten. But not with these fine musicians – certainly not with the four prime movers of this ensemble. The music of Sonido Solar [Solar Sound], indeed, burns with the kind of heat that explodes from the very nuclear corona of the sun. It is, however, not an explosion that comes with a loud bang, only to end in a whimper; it certainly is the kind of explosion – the elegant rumble of which is sustained for almost an hour, over nine exquisitely arranged compositions by stellar figures in Afro-Caribbean music and played by a group fronted by trumpeter Jonathan Powell, together with alto saxophonist Louis Fouché, and the ubiquitous brothers, pianist Zaccai Curtis and contrabassist Luques Curtis.
Significantly, the album has the indelible stamp of approval from the mentor of the four co-leaders: the great pianist Eddie Palmieri, who also graces the album with his presence on two marvelous pieces, Picadillo by the legendary Tito Puente, and a composition he [Mr Palmieri] wrote himself, which is Suite 176. The group of musicians is actually a nonet+1 comprising a stellar cast built around the four front-men who, in a manner of speaking, have been schooled in the proverbial University of Palmieri. Of course, the Curtis brothers and Mr Powell and Mr Fouché have long since flown the nest, having been given wings by Mr Palmieri. The Grand Master does manifest his presence in the inimitable manner growling and rumbling in time [and off-beat] on both the pieces he appears on, as if to say: “I’m still around, guys…I ain’t done yet!”
Playing at intimate levels of physical and emotional intensity the group’s wind and rhythm – piano, contrabass, drums, and percussion colourists – make the sort of music that might easily be associated – by the nature, style and import of the playing – with the proverbial Big Bang event that launched this music we have come to love as Latin Jazz, which has, evolved from its great ancestor, Afro-Cuban music [or Afro-Caribbean, if you consider that the Diaspora, indeed includes the entire Caribbean islands].
The record glides out of the gate with the liquid fire of the danzón Almendra – itself a spectacular and classic chart written by the inimitable Ernesto Abelardo Valdés. This is immediately followed by another timeless piece – Mambo Influenciado – the creation of pianist Chucho Valdés, perhaps the mightiest colossus of Afro-Cuban music living today. In a sense it is no surprise that one will also find Mambo Inn [one of the most enduring works written in this musical vernacular by Grace Simpson, Bobby Woodlen and the legendary Mario Bauzá].
This is no surprise because by the time you get to this part of the recording you are sure that this album now has all the makings of a classic of its own – and your intuition would be right, of course because Tito Puente’s Picadillo, Ran Kan Kan – a superb arrangement of it at that – and Noro Morales’ Maria Cervantes follow shortly. The real surprise – an enormously welcome one – is the inclusion of the song Morning by another musician titan, Claire Fischer has found its way here. This speaks to the maturity and breadth of experience of the leadership of this ensemble as Mr Fischer is easily one of the most important composers in popular music whose name has been kept alive largely because of his son Brent Fischer who has zealously guarded his father’s legacy.
One would be remis if one did not make special mention of a few performances. The first of these is Mr Palmieri’s on both the songs on which he is featured as his playing is full of chic, rich allusion to his musical heritage – notably his expressive sound harmonised by his rhythmically rumbling vocalastics and his acrobatic chops. Zaccai Curtis is certainly made of the same musical sinew as his mentor and plays with both great flair and ferocity throughout. Luques Curtis is similarly superb – his pizzicato is mucho macho and yet he plays with uncommon elegance and authority on an instrument that is meant to announce its commanding voice all the time.
Substantial melodic and harmonic heat is generated by Jonathan Powell on trumpet, as well as the flaming licks of Louis Fouche’s alto horn make for the big burn of this album. Camilo Molina is given the pivotal task of making a joyful noise on both the conventional drum set as well as on the timbales [cue Suite 176], redolent of colour and melodic tone – and he shines on both instruments – especially on Picadillo. And both Reynaldo de Jesús and Marcos López produce heavenly and roaring sonorities, especially on Ran Kan Kan.
This is a flawless album that sings and dances throughout – all in praise of the timeless tradition of a music that has roots as deep and enduring in the African tradition and came to the New World at the same time and with the same explosive power as Black American Music, its close relative from the North American mainland.
Tracks – 1: Almendra; 2: Mambo Influenciado; 3: Mambo Inn; 4: Maria Cervantes; 5: Morning; 6: Obsesión; 7: Picadillo; 8: Ran Kan Kan; 9: Suite 176
Musicians – Jonathan Powell: trumpet; Joe Fiedler: trombone; Louis Fouché: alto saxophone; Jeremy Powell: tenor saxophone; Zaccai Curtis: piano; Luques Curtis: contrabass; Camilo Molina: timbales and drums; Reinaldo de Jesús: congas; Marcos López: bongos and cowbell. Special Guest – Eddie Palmieri: piano [7, 9].
Released – 2023
Label – Truth Revolution Records [TRRCD83]
Runtime – 58:07
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