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Nelson Riveros: The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery

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Nelson Riveros

There can be no question that the world of modern – Jazz – guitar would not be quite the same without [first] Charlie Christian, and [then] Wes Montgomery. Who would have thought, however, that Mr Montgomery’s liquid Jazz guitar could be interpreted any other way than he played it without losing the liquidity of his playing, that is. The idea that his music could have a life in the many splendored idioms of South American music was probably furthest in the minds of guitar-playing musicians. Mr Montgomery’s music is so forcefully linear, propelled by melodic lines that seem to spurt in rhythmic, yet volcanic bursts from his fingers.

Nelson Riveros - The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery
Album cover – Nelson Riveros: The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery

Along comes guitarist Nelson Riveros who braves the monumental challenge of flipping the script, so to speak; to turn Mr Montgomery’s already-iconic musical signature into something quite spectacularly his [Mr Riveros’] own. Remarkably Mr Riveros does this in the manner that – metaphorically-he has eaten of the fruit of the Manifesto Antropófago of Brasilian poet and polemicist Oswald de Andrade, the Brasilian modernist whose palimpsest suggested that Brasil’s history of “cannibalising” other cultures, a modernist/primitivist tribal rite that enabled the country to assert itself against European post-colonial cultural domination.

What worked splendidly for Brasilian artists such as De Andrade and his painter-wife, Tarsila do Amaral seems to have informed Mr Riveros’ interpretations of Wes Montgomery’s music to the extent that it takes the culturally amorphous shape of the South American soundworld. And this is superbly reflected in the repertoire on this disc – The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery. The title may be a tad simplistic because it doesn’t quite describe the richness of the musical soundscape of Mr Riveros. But a handsome disc it certainly is.

First of all Mr Riveros goes well beneath the songs [seven composed by Mr Montgomery and two originals that reveal Mr Riveros’ uncommon musicality]. Remaining keenly sensitive to Mr Montgomery’s artistic vision – evoked by rounded notes developing into swirling melodic lines gently interrupted by bell-like block chords brought to life by soft skin on gleaming steel – Mr Riveros invites us into his alternate musical world; one where dappled light illuminates enchanting, almost mystic harmonies brought to life with intoxicating rhythms brilliantly interpreted by pianist Hector Martignon, bassist Andy McKee, the drummer Mark Walker [inimitable when he rumbles into a Latin groove] and percussion colourist Jonathan Gomez.

And so, having undertaken this exotic musical adventure, does Mr Riveros bring greater penetration to the music of Wes Montgomery? There’s no need to answer this rhetorical question. Mr Riveros’ voice is a glowing work-in-progress, with a light, bright timbre that leaves the untold rhythmic riches of Brasilian music only to dwells in the vast lyricism of South American music. This quality makes for an, all-encompassing sound world imbued with the shuffling rhythms of the Colombian porro [“Wes’ Tune”] and the Venezuelan joropo [“West Coast Blues”] that shape-shifts into a fandango and a son jarocho. Through it all the uncommon virtuosic skill these stellar musicians is on full display, in the soli of Mr Martignon [“Jingles], Messieurs Walker and Gomez [“Tear it Down”] and Mr McKee [“Facing Wes”].

Every once and a while Mr Riveros stops over in Brasil; to take in a rhapsodic samba [“Tear it Down”] and dive into Africana by invoking the afôxé and the baião on his inspired composition “Nelson’s Groove”, a heart-felt tribute to Mr Montgomery’s skidding , bluesy tunes. Mr Riveros’ creates what could easily be referred to as a musical doppelgänger in “Facing Wes”, a reflection of the impact that the music of The Great One may have had on the Brasilian. Yet nothing can prepare you for the version of Mr Montgomery’s “Leila” a rapturous acoustic version that is not only the apogee of this recording, but a song that melts with tenderness to bring to an end this poetic insight into the music of one of the most influential Jazz guitarists, a transcendent musical tribute made with heartfelt love.

Track list – 1: Road Song; 2: Tear It Down; 3: Four on Six; 4: Wes’ Tune; 5: Nelson’s Groove; 6: West Coast Blues; 7: Jingles; 8: Facing Wes; 9: Leila

Personnel Nelson Riveros: guitar; Hector Martignon: piano; Andy McKee: bass; Mark Walker: drums; Jonathan Gomez: percussion

Released – 2021
Label – ZOHO Music [ZM 202 103]
Runtime – 41:30

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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