Michael Eckroth Group: Plena
Composer and pianist Michael Eckroth is a charismatic artist, a distinctive voice in a field crowded with technically immaculate but intermittently inspired players. Moreover, Mr Eckroth is supremely proficient in more than one musical dialect and can express himself wonderfully in a myriad of expressive harmonic and idiomatic rhythmic phrases. Not surprisingly, he took the musical cognoscenti by storm with his spectacular original compositions [co-written with Jacob Plasse and Pepito Gómez] and sensuously-crafted and beguiling arrangements of music on an iconic debut album for Orquesta Akokán.
Of course Mr Eckroth honed his sublime skills for several years with the trio La Voz de Tres [with Natalia Bernal and Jason Ennis] as well as with the Calle Mambo Project. He has also been actively contributing to several musical projects together with artists as diverse as the inimitable woodwinds and reeds master Paul McCandless, stellar guitarist John Scofield and the celebrated bassist Ron McClure. No matter what the musical dialect, Mr Eckroth’s pianism soars with cultivated classicism and resonant artistry.
On Plena, Mr Eckroth lends his artistic genius to expression in the Puerto Rican turn of phrase. From the very first bars of music it’s clear that his music is conceived not only in the particular rhythmic forms unique to the island nation, but in a manner that deeply evokes the spirit of the music too. His metres are elastic, notes are grouped together for gestural effect, long pauses are inserted for rhetorical purposes and an improvisatory spirit rules above all else. Excitement and ebullience of rhythmic form is paramount. However, when order is needed Mr Eckroth enforces it, sometimes with great drama, as in the song “Plena” and in “Soul Cha”.
The music is rather strictly resonant of the plena form, but though rhythmically not so freewheeling, the musicians led by the pianist still make it sing and dance with relative abandon. Peter Brainin’s tenor saxophone adds dense colouration to “And So It Goes” and elsewhere, while he soars on soprano saxophone on the prescient “Superspreader”. John Fedchock’s dolorous trombone grumbles and moans on “Soul Cha” while Brian Lynch’s radiant trumpet illuminates “Exotic Particles”. Two sets of teams are used to erect outstanding rhythmic edifices.
Taken together Michael Eckroth and his Group have found new realms of colour and new avenues of seductive expression in the well-trod rhythms of Puerto Rico’s iconic dance-form – on the memorable repertoire of Plena.
Track list – 1: And So It Goes; 2: Summer of Love and Discontent; 3: Superspreader; 4: Plena; 5: Invernadero; 6: Soul Cha; 7: Exotic Particles; 8: Rain Song
Personnel – Michael Eckroth: piano; Alex “Apolo” Ayala: bass [1 – 4, 6, 7]; Joel Mateo: drums [1 – 4, 6, 7]; Mauricio Herrera: congas [1, 6, 7]; Peter Brainin: tenor saxophone [1, 6, 7], soprano saxophone  and percussion ; Carlos Maldonado: Percussion [3, 4]; Edward Perez: bass [5, 8]; Juan Felipe Mayorga: drums [5, 8]; Samuel Torres: congas [5, 8]; Special Guests – John Fedchock: trombone ; Brian Lynch: trumpet 
Released – 2021
Label – Truth Revolution Records [#TRRC055]
Runtime – 41:33