Featured Album · Editor’s Pick
In a world mad about Afro-Caribbean music, the name Samuel Torres may not be the first to come to mind, but it most certainly should albeit not principally for the reasons that most obviously suggest themselves – and that is his abilities as a virtuoso percussionist. Of course, he is a preeminent percussion colourist. But, as the repertoire of Alegría suggests there is something infinitely important about Mr Torres: and that is his supreme aptitude for composition and – even more so – his magnificent gift for arrangements. In the latter area this recording proves that there are few in his class.
Mr Torres’ ability to transform what appears as a humble, inanimate black dot – or a series of said black dots – into a living, breathing art of symphonic proportions is legion. This precludes a sense of sound as being not only something multi-dimensional but having such physical properties as matter. With this heightened sense of awareness Mr Torres is able to ascertain infinitely more than the relative density of music notes; he is able to recognise the individual textures of notes and note-clusters. When all of this innate ability on his part translates to music you get architecture as beautiful as a diaphanous woven musical fabric as rich as raw silk. This is the true beauty and significance of the music of Alegría.
I can think of numerous recordings where music has been written to include a piano interacting with trumpets and saxophones, trombones, bass, drums and percussion. I can also think of a number of such recordings – even fine ones – where music has been created specifically with eminent musicians such as Luis Perdomo, Pablo Bencid, Will Vinson, Marshall Gilkes, and the incomparable Alex Norris [to name some of those present here; all of whom solo with idiomatic brilliance, by the way] in mind, [but, of course, I shan’t]. However, none of the above comes even remotely close to the stature of this music in terms of abstract things such as musicological meaning, and concrete things such as tone-texture. This is only possible where all the forces guiding a prodigiously gifted musician such as Mr Torres are cosmically aligned.
Mr Torres is a master of mood and atmosphere with an ability to coordinate colour and structure to a rare degree. He reveals just what it is like to wield such supremacy on – for instance – “Barretto Power” – a song that not only brings the effervescent personality of the great Ray Barretto to life, but does so in a manner that conjures Mr Barretto himself in a sort of musical hologramme. In “Preludio a un Abrazo” he takes us to another world. It is one full of glinting lights, hopes and joys glimpsed by moonlight in the forest of Central Park. In “Anga”, Mr Torres’ music imparts a power and stature to melody, harmony and – particularly – rhythm which perfectly describes the uncommon “bigness” of his dedicatee, the legendary Cuban tumbadora player, Miguel “Angá” Díaz.
And on and on it goes throughout the repertoire of this album. In sheer colour and variety, in the depth of its characterisation and the exceptional fluidity and range, the refinement of music Mr Torres has crafted music that is truly seductive and ravishing, and almost insolently effortless and debonair in its symphonic swagger.
Track list – 1: Salsa, Jazz y Choke; 2: The Strength to Love; 3: Barretto Power; 4: Preuldio a un Abrazo; 5: Little Grasshopper; 6: Bolero para Raquel; 7: Alegria; 8: Anga.
Personnel – Michael Rodríguez: trumpet and flugelhorn; Alex Norris: trumpet [solo 8] and flugelhorn; Marshall Gilkes: trombone [soli 1, 8}; Will Vinson: alto saxophone [solo 7] and soprano saxophone [solo 4]; Joel Frahm: tenor saxophone [soli 2, 6] and soprano saxophone; Iván Renta: baritone saxophone [soli 3, 8], bass clarinet and flute [solo 5]; Luis Perdomo: piano [soli 1, 4, 7]and Fender Rhodes [solo 2]; Rubén Rodríguez: electric bass [solo 3]; Pablo Bencid: drums [solo 3]; Samuel Torres: congas [soli 1, 8] bongo, kalimba [solo 5], log drum, cajón, maracas, llanera, djembe, talking drum [solo 2], güiro, timbal, tambourine, clave, shekere, and effects
Released – 2020
Label – Blue Conga 
Runtime – 52:38