Not many musicians—and even fewer women musicians—have a talent that enables them to write for big bands. Anna Mae Wilburn in the 1930s; then Carla Bley and Maria Schneider in America; Toshiko Akiyoshi and Satoko Fujii in Japan are probably the best—even only—women big band leaders that come to mind. So it is reason for rejoicing that the young Uruguayan musician and composer—Florencia González—who leads a bewildering array of bands chose to make her recording debut by writing for and fronting a big band. The album, Woman Dreaming of Escape is a stunning debut for a musician so young. It is indeed extraordinary for any musician to be possessed by such an enduring vision and taste for the textures and timbres of a wide array of instruments. But more than that, it seems that Ms. González has a penchant for creating music not only for instruments but for the individuals who play them.
Writing and arranging gigantic scores is no mean achievement and there are several ways to achieve this. However, only someone who is truly talented can create music with such power and beauty. Ms. González is more than just a talented musician. She is, quite simply, a rarity—a woman of astonishing substance. Her recreation of Hugo Fattoruso’s well-known song, “Hurry” belies that fact. Transcribing the music classically played by Mr. Fattoruso with his trio into a big band setting is no mean achievement. Here M. González not only captures the slender fragility of the original but she manages to extrapolate this exquisite thinness into something that works magnificently on the larger musical canvas on which she paints her music. Melding a spectral lilting joropo with the chacarera and doing so with thick viscous textures swirling inside the chacarera rhythm Ms. González produces something truly beautiful. Each phrase melts into another, chorus after chorus gently builds with burgeoning harmony, melted into one another by the liquid guitar; the myriad horns fuse together and the whole piece then swells into a virtual passacaglia until the song reaches its ultimate dénouement.
The title song of her album “Woman Dreaming of Escape” is a delicate piece that relocates the famous painting of the same name by the famous Catalan Cubist painter Joan Miró to the landscape of music. Employing formidable counterpoint as she enables the intermingling of brass and woodwinds Ms. González establishes the dramatic rhythm of the painting from the very beginning of her piece. From then on the music is in a constant state of dynamic relaxation as the central character of the painting evolves with Ms. González’s imaginative creation of the poetics of her work. It is wonderful that Ms. González re-creates the delicate calligraphy and delicate gesture of Miró’s work right down to his coded signs that coexist with the unpredictable morphology of the woman. In translating the mysterious beauty of the painting for the big band, Ms. González captures its essential aura for the big band right until she sets her character free in a giant crash of a major chord by the whole orchestra.
Florencia González’s pursuit of big band excellence is relentless. In “Chacarera para Greg” she is at her most ladylike as she combines the stately pirouettes and graceful moves of a slew of Uruguayan folk dances with elemental sensuousness. Here the use of the woody sound of the clarinet and the interplay between the high and flashy sound of the soprano and the excited sounds of the alto saxophone in a lower register act as a memorable musical parallel for the graceful and titillating exchanges between male and female partners. The fugue, “Miniatura cromatica” does not simply pay tribute to the composers: Bela Bartok and Gustav Mahler, but it goes even further by incorporating the untamed beauty of Uruguayan music with classical forms and the contemporary dialect of improvised music in manner that pays unusual tribute to the masterful Hungarian and the equally brilliant German composers while displaying a memorable creativity of its own.
In its oblique reference to Bobby Timmons’ famous chart, “Moanin’” in the opening chords an melody, Ms. González seems to pay tribute to Jazz influences including some of the big band music of the great Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus. The dark colours and viscous textures of the horns and woodwinds re-create the exciting and more authentic rhythmic influences of African music in the music of the Americas. Ms. González’s enduring tribute the African-American music continues through “DEFG Blues”. The ever-interesting bass line of the composition enables musicians to leap out of the harmonic comfort zones of their instruments with theatrical colour and remarkable texture. Horns overlap saxophones; brass and woodwinds moan in mellow tones. The bass makes way for the drums as the majestic colours of the piece unfold. Here Ms. González re-captures the bright and beautiful music of big bands led by Thad Jones.
But it is the riveting artistry of Florencia González that ultimately creates the enduring nature of this album. It also heralds the shape of things to come from a musician of whom much is expected—and is sure to be revealed—in the months and years to come.
Deep understanding due in part to the soaring intellect of the composer… sweeping architectural perspective on the dramatic tonal values of the brass and woodwinds of and the timbres of the notes that are within the realm of possibility in a Big Band… a major record of big band charts… echoes of the best influences of George Russell throughout.
Tracks: Hurry; Mujer soñando con la evasion; Chacarera para Greg; Miniatura cromatica; Candombe estirado; DEFG Blues.
Personnel: Susanna Quilter: flute; Sofia González: flute; Art Felluca: alto saxophone, clarinet, flute; Nick Burst: alto saxophone, clarinet, flute; Andy Voelker: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Andrew Halchak: tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute; Mike Jacobs: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Josh Mizruchi: trumpet, flugelhorn; Greg Marchand: trumpet, flugelhorn; Sam Dechenne: trumpet, flugelhorn; Chris Kottke: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tim Schneier: tenor trombone; Pete Fanelli: tenor trombone; David Schwartz: bass trombone; Diego Porchile: guitar; Andrew Washburn: piano; Mariana Iranzi: bass; Franco Pinna: drum set; Florencia González: composition, arrangements, conductor.
Label: Self Published | Release date: June 2012