Henry Cole & Villa Locura: Buscando la Vida
Colonisation of the Americas and the Caribbean has done little to stifle the traditional cultures of the colonised. If anything it has pushed a people’s voice further underground and helped create the perfect catalyst for a volatile upsurge of expression and freedom. This reckoning may seemed passive at one time in – relatively speaking – the arts. Popular music is a good example. But following example of Bebop from the 1940s and the avant-garde movements of the 1960s younger musicians have not only taken note but also discovered their own voices, digging into the tap root that extends from Africa all the way to the Americas.
The visceral energy of drummer Henry Cole in his compositions and performances is one of the most vivid examples breaking out of the morass of formulaic treacle that has made it almost impossible to be aroused [into action] by much of today’s music. Like that other deeply committed musician of Puerto Rican descent, Miguel Zenón, Mr Cole mines his heritage like an old alchemist would to extract its cultural truth like a rare and precious metal, shimmering atop a totem pole, drawing listeners into a sound world that is all but lost in the clutter and instant gratification of today’s digital culture.
The music on this album comes from a world of glinting lights; an exuberant outpouring of youthful lyricism based on the frenetic dancing folkloric rhythms of Puerto Rico, which have left a lasting impression on the language of Afro-Caribbean musical literature. The vivid, occasionally strident sound of the music of Buscando la Vida has a wide dynamic range – so, sit near the volume control as this music can get quite explosive.
Mr Cole asks the existential question that has perplexed and befuddled artists for generations on Buscando la Vida. Mr Cole establishes his wide palette of sound with “No Estamos Solos”, establishing, right out of the gate that he is a rugged musical adventurer. The song has him leading – as if at the head of a comparsa – the entire ensemble, including the formidable Metropole Orkest as well. The music rises to dizzying heights, winding up the musical tension which doesn’t really unwind until the album ends.
Although this is an ensemble production, because of its deep connections to traditional Puerto Rican dance forms, it is essentially propelled by the rhythmic variations which, in turn, drive the melodic and harmonic content. The music is interpreted by musicians of superlative virtuosity, who have interiorised the music to perfection and who play it with idiomatic grace. But it is, nevertheless, a percussion colourist’s album. For instance Mr Cole and Alberto “Beto” Torrens [who plays barril] mine the range of traditional rhythms and profit their tonal embrace and ample phrasing, matched like velvet in a glove on songs such as “Shinobi”, and “Vueltas,” which thrives and soars with vocals led by Duke Amayo [and a chorale, towards the end] set on thick instrumental canvas set aflame by the baritone saxophone by Andrew Gutauskas and Mr Cole’s drumming.
Unfettered exploration is also rife throughout this music – from combining the big symphonic arrangements featuring the Metropole Orkest to the music’s collision with the rhyme and rhythm of rap [featuring Negro González on “De Frente”]. Meanwhile the biggest push forward comes in the album’s apogee, which is “Vueltas”. In my opinion this is so because of the ingenious arrangements that weave bold and big boned brass and woodwinds harmonic conception into the lyrical melodic lines. Meanwhile the hypnotic groove is maintained by the bass, while Mr Cole’s drumming drives it all with brilliantly sculpted rhythmic inventions, all of which brings to a close perhaps the composer and drummer’s most fascinating and far-reaching recordings.
Track List – 1: No Estamos Solos; 2: Y En Sueños Te Persigo; 3: Dime Dónde Estas 4: H.C.S; 5: De Frente; 6: Azul Turquesa; 7: Shinobi [He Who Hides]; 8: Vueltas
Personnel – Henry Cole: drums, synthesizers and Fender Rhodes; Jahaziel García: trumpet; Jonathan Acevedo: tenor saxophone; Andrew Gutauskas: baritone saxophone; Kalani Trinidad: flute; Benito Díaz: French horn [3, 4]; Randy Román: trombone [3, 4]; Giovanny De La Rosa: guitar; Javier Pérez: guitar; Ricardo Rodríguez: bass; Emanuel Rivera Gambaro: keyboards and synthesizers; Alberto “Beto” Torrens: barril; Bryant Huffman: chekere; Duke Amayo: lead vocals ; Negro González: lead vocals ; Antoinette Rodriguez: backing vocals ; Melissa Orsini: backing vocals ; Dayanira Arzuaga: backing vocals ; Génesis Z. Cordero: backing vocals; Metropole Orkest 
Released – 2021
Label – La Música Artesanal
Runtime – 58:01