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Sammy Figueroa: Searching for a Memory

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Sammy Figueroa
Iconic Percussionist Sammy Figueroa

Of all the recordings that Sammy Figueroa has made in his life this one – Searching for a Memory – must certainly have been the most difficult to make musically, and the most emotionally draining. This is the album, after all, where Mr Figueroa roams the existential mists of time not simply to find his father that he barely knew, but also to close a circle between both men. The iconic percussionist’s father – Charlie Figueroa – was a celebrated 1950s frontman in well-known dance bands and, a vocalist who had magnetic hold on his listeners, who saw him [probably] as a kind of heartthrob who caused listeners to swoon. There are two short clips of music featuring the elder Figueroa – Buscando Tu Recuerdo and No Llores Más – that prove this may almost certainly be true. Besides, there are anecdotes that have come down from musicians Eddie Palmieri and Yomo Toro, and a family member who knew him from his Bohemian days – before he passed from most memories – except the memory of his son Sammy Figueroa.

The emotional journey is now over – at least to the extent that some sort of closure has been attempted by the younger Mr Figueroa. But what a glorious closing of the circle this recording is – not just for Mr Figueroa, but for all the participating musicians who came together to literally bring the percussionist’s father – Charlie Figueroa – back to life again. Just how satisfying must this production have been? The percussionist himself admits that he began with an almost vaporous memory of the man who probably inspired him. However, clearly the bond between father and son is not that mythical after all. Listening to Mr Figueroa sing one of his father’s greatest boleros Buscando Tu Recuerdo, it is a sign that proverbial son also rises.

Sammy Figueroa: Searching for a Memory
Sammy Figueroa: Searching for a Memory

Despite the fact that there are numerous stellar moments – all attributable to Mr Figueroa’s compelling virtuosity as a percussion colourist – his vocal turn on that song, his father’s most iconic and bittersweet bolero, is the absolute apogee of this recording. I cannot think of another singer who could have recorded a more hauntingly aching interpretation of a song, that clearly has come from the deepest recesses of the younger Figueroa’s heart. Yet it is not the only deeply felt performances of music on the album. Star turns by the redoubtable princess of the Cuban love song – Aymée Nuviola –are glittering highlights of the album and surely Mr Figueroa happily, therefore, shares the already high musical pedestal, the ornamental architecture of which also owes much to the incomparable pianist, and the album’s music director – Gonzalo Rubalcaba.

The rest of the cast on this recording is like a musical super constellation and the credit for this also goes to another of Mr Figueroa’s VIPs: Rachel Faro. What a coup to have Mr Figueroa sharing the same studio space with Mr Rubalcaba and Miss Nuviola as well as with the celebrated saxophonists Miguel Zenón and Felipe LaMoglia, trumpeter John Daversa, the prodigious Brasilian Munir Hossn who turns in a breathtaking guitar performance on Margie as well as flutist Magela Hererra, contrabassist Ricardo Rodríguez, drummer Ludwig Afonso and the ubiquitous trumpeter on this date: Francisco Dimas. Commonly, such a considerable list of marquee names could mean that the elemental emotion of such an album could easily come undone if just one musician issues just one over-decorated phrase on just one song. To the credit of this stellar cast this is never the case. Even the ornamental virtuosity of the great Cuban pianist is brilliantly contained in the eloquent but spare flurries of harmonic phrases that inform his mighty soli.

Clearly Mr Figueroa is at the peak of his musical powers and although he may easily go on to issue many more iconic albums, for my ears, this recital’s unity of purpose is utterly convincing. For that reason as well as for the fact that no music made by Mr Figueroa comes for a more secret place in the heart, the music of Searching for a Memory will always be as special to those of us who are privy to the compelling story behind this very special music.

Deo gratis…

YouTube Playlist – Sammy Figueroa: Searching for a Memory

Music – 1: Como Arrullo De Palmas; 2: Tú Serás Mía; 3: Madrigal; 4: Busco Tu Recuerdo [excerpt]; 5: Busco Tu Recuerdo; 6: Plegaria De Amor; 7: Culpa Al Destino; 8: Añoranzas; 9: Margie; 10: El Último Suspiro; 11: No Llores Más.

Musicians – Sammy Figueroa: percussion and vocals; Gonzalo Rubalcaba: piano; Aymée Nuvíola: vocals [1, 3, 7, 10]; Ricardo Rodríguez: contrabass; Ludwig Afonso: drums; Felipe LaMoglia: tenor saxophone [1 – 6, 8, 10, 11]; Francisco Dimas: trumpet 1 – 6, 8, 10, 11]. Special Guests – Miguel Zenón: alto saxophone [1, 8]; John Daversa: trumpet [2]; Munir Hossn: guitar and percussion [9]; Magela Herrera: flute [9].

Released – 2023
Label – Ashé Records [CD 2018)
Runtime – 58:17

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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