If you’re not a Cuban musician living in Toronto chances are you might not have heard a great deal about Amhed Mitchel. But that would be a real pity because you ought to. At any rate, if you missed him when he released The Breath of Life (2013), it is time to catch up and the drummer is offering discerning listeners another chance with Naciente. This is as good an opportunity to get the whole nine yards on one of Toronto’s best-kept secrets: a fully-formed musician who just happens to play a drum set as well as anyone you are likely to hear. Somewhat surprisingly, Mr Mitchel chooses to call his second recording in four years Naciente. It seems odd only because the drummer is far from the suggestion that he has ‘just born’.
Each of the ten pieces on Naciente is a work of sublime craftsmanship. Melodic lines are complex; linear to begin with, but which soon twist and turn, deepening their beckoning mystery. The surprises, when they come, spring dramatically and effectively, but discreetly: a rippling jazz groove launches into a broodingly percussive tumbling segue, before cutting loose into a funky close (“Las Fiestas de Ponce”), a gamelan-like riff assigned to the saxophone is played as pizzicato harmonics inviting a rapid response from the piano (“Los Pasos de Mery”), a delicate curlicue of a bass line underpins what sounds like a descarga (“Nuevo”), and a close-knit ensemble passage develops out of a single phrase (“Self Portrait”). Through it all this magisterial control is never lost even when things get loose.
Amid the hyperactive star turns, from fusion to free the drummer stops the show with many gorgeously crafted, melodic phrases: a spontaneous meditation here and a fiery rumble there – both, at once simple and lyrical, abstract and profound. His magnificent sense of time and tonal palette provides purity of sound to every song. This inspirational leadership is evident at every turn, with a constellation of stars – from Roberto Riverón and Kieran Overs on bass, José Luis Torres ‘Papiosco’ on percussion, Rafael Zaldivar on piano, Luis Deniz on alto saxophone and the drummer’s illustrious late father on drums (“Self Portrait”) everyone seems to follow the drummer wherever he would lead. Often this is down an intricate rhythmic path where the drummer is constantly ringing in the changes in mood, structure and tempo, making for a constantly interesting programme.
The considerable degree of balance and integration of melody, harmony and rhythm, of composition and improvisation, of exploration, individuality and tradition is impressively maintained throughout. The recorded sound – with Toronto’s eminent engineer John Bailey on the boards – balances detail and warmth. Amhed Mitchel has hit it out of the park again.
Track list – 1: Las Fiestas de Ponce; 2: New Morning; 3: Newborn; 4: Toscana; 5: Los Pasos de Mery; 6: Naciente; 7: Nuevo; 8: MMM!!!; 9: Recuerdos; 10: Self Portrait
Personnel: Amhed Mitchel: drums, keyboards (3) and piano (10); Jorge Mitchel: drums (10); Rafael Zaldivar: piano (1 -3, 5 – 8); Adrean Farrugia: piano (9); Stan Fomin: keyboard (4, 10); Dave Restivo: piano and Fender Rhodes (4); Roberto Riverón: contrabass and electric bass (1, 2, 5 – 7, 10); Kieran Overs: contrabass (4, 9); Juan Pablo Dominguez: electric bass (3, 8); Jeff King: soprano saxophone (3, 9); Luis Deniz: alto saxophone (1, 2, 4 – 10); Ted Quinlan: guitar (4); Eliel Lazo: congas (2); Jorge Luis Torres ‘Papiosco’: congas (1, 8, 10)
Released – 2017
Label – Independent
Runtime – 1:12:22