Canada sometimes feels a lot like the Afro-Cuban mainland. The country is bristling with talent from the fabled island of the Orishas among other not-so-savoury things. The spirited, inventive trumpeter Alexis Baró is one of those reasons why. Sugar Rush his 2016 album is a winning recording. Its gut-busting energy, built on Baró’s fiery trumpet and smouldering flugelhorn playing is exceptionally expressive and leaves no doubt about who’s leading the charge. Despite the aggressive character of his playing, his musical language is beautifully-toned and enormously appealing.
Here we have a young Cuban-born virtuoso stepping in the proverbial shoes of Arturo Sandoval. His work – especially on “La Guarida” comes from a similar tonal centre and he wields a similarly broad brush to paint darkening and intensifying moments with artful elegance. Characteristically, as with his performances on stage, Alexis Baró gets the measure of his songs’ identities without much undue ornamentation, digging deep with lively intelligence. His fulsome tone (cue “Caminando por la Vida” and “Laberinto”) matches the rich ensemble sound provided by saxophonist Jeff King, together with pianist Adrean Farrugia and keyboards player Jeremy Ledbetter.
Moreover with extraordinary performances by drummer Amhed Mitchel, the great Jorge Luis Torres “Papiosco” painting wondrous percussion colours on his battery of instruments, as well as bassists Roberto Riverón and Yoser Rodriguez the tempos invariably feel right bowling along with just the right dash of brio. There’s pure poetry in each of their playing as well; what else could you expect from masterfully Afro-Cuban rhythmists schooled on the magical mystical music of the island? “Papiosco” in particular features a nimble technique, marvellously cut to fit the instrument he is playing which is always heard being played with beautiful tone and superb intonation.
Despite moments of visceral power Alexis Baró can also be – when playing flugelhorn – velvet (again) to Sandoval’s satin especially in solo passages and we are treated to some of this in “Inner Face”, a noteworthy, introverted piece. Alexis Baró reveals, here, that he can play at some distance from the virtuoso roller-coaster of, say, “Sigueme” and this to my mind is a sure sign of maturity and voice that can desist from exaggerated projection. Of course it is the nimble technique, sweet tone and elegant phrasing from Alexis Baró that enlivens this and other pieces as well.
Make no mistake, however, for one of the stars on this recording is the ensemble that backs up our hero. The transparency of the textures throughout is magnificent, inspired by Alexis Baró and his horns with sensitive exactitude, so that everything emerges lustrous, intense and vivid.
Track List: 1: Sigueme; 2: La Guarida; 3: Paseo por el Prado; 4: Please Believe Me; 5: Caminando por la Vida; 6: El Camino; 7: Sugar Rush; 8: Laberinto; 9: Inner Face.
Personnel: Alexis Baró: trumpet and flugelhorn; Tenor saxophone: Jeff King; Adrean Farrugia: piano; Jeremy Ledbetter: keyboard; Yoser Rodriguez: bass (1, 4, 6 – 8); Roberto Riverón: bass (2, 3, 9); Ahmed Mitchel: drums; Jorge Luis Torres “Papiosco”: percussion, timbal and bàtá drums.