Rayuela the legendary 1963 Spanish novel by the great Argentinean writer, Julio Cortázar had an equally illustrious incarnation in English in 1966 as Hopscotch when Gregory Rabassa translated it into that language.
Both the Spanish original and the English version, which won the National Book Award in the category for both Cortázar and Rabassa, set the art world aflame with by touching the nerve of contemporary society that was in the throes of Jean Paul Sartre’s Theory of Existentialism. Baby boomers, caught up in their existentialist angst bought into the book’s beguilingly beautiful, fractured narrative with body and soul. And then a revolutionary generation grew up and began to wear grey suits and hid behind beige files and fat bank accounts. Just about fifty years have passed since that mighty social phenomenon ebbed like a tired wave that was abandoned by all who were caught in its monumental crest.
Thanks to alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, pianist Laurent Coq and Executive Producer Francois Zalaçain the existential angst of another generation has been shaken up with the magnificent musical telling of the oblique narrative. The relocation to music of characters, the locales of Paris and Buenos Aires and everything that transpires in both the real and imagined narrative is one of the most sensational sleights of hand by an artist, completely beguiled by the book. As a result Zenón captures the fragile nature of the characters, Oliveira, Talita, Rocamadour, Gekrepten, and La Maga and Traveler in songs of the same names. The saxophonist’s utter surrender to the truth of Cortázar’s book has a tremendous impact on the emotional intensity of the music. This is reflected in the dreamy wild expeditious nature of Coq’s pianism. His use of the pedals—especially the damper—which gives harmonies a bell-like resonance capture the sense of a living unconscious. The grand arpeggios melded in with the grand glissandi of Zenon’s alto saxophone combine to mimic the ache in Talita’s heart as she becomes separated from Oliveira. The mournful cello of Dana Leong and his mystical descending patterns on “La Muerte de Rocamadour” (the death of Talita’s child is heartbreaking).
One of the master strokes in the musical production is the use of Leong on cello. By eliminating the contrabass, depth of emotion is relegated to the cello, which is plucked and bowed. This, played across the harmonies of the alto saxophone creates a beautiful duende, allowing the musicians to capture the tortured mind of the principle character that is beginning to lose his mind from the loss of his love Talita. His aimless wanderings through the streets of Buenos Aires and gradual descent into madness when his only anchor “El Club de la Serpiente” is pulled like a proverbial rug from under his feet is spectacularly played out by the musicians especially Leong on a cello that seems to become an animated voice in the ensemble almost vocalizing Oliveira’s grief and madness.
And yet this is not an opera, set to a libretto. Rather Zenón and Coq have woven a musical tapestry with ingenious instrumentalism; soaring, twisting harmonies and melodies that are so alive that the characters could be walking in the spluttering notes. Most of all it is the extraordinary drumming incorporating his magical tabla work with which Dan Weiss puts the whole story into a brilliant and subtly shaded rhythmic context on one of the year’s most brilliant records.
Tracks: Talita; La Muerte de Rocamadour; Gekrepten; Buenos Aires; Morelliana; Oliveira; Berthe Trépat; Traveler; La Maga; El Club de la Serpiente.
Personnel: Miguel Zenón: alto saxophone; Laurent Coq: piano; Dana Leong: cello and trombone; Dan Weiss: drums, tabla, and percussion.
Miguel Zenón – Official Website: www.miguelzenon.com
Laurent Coq – Official Website: www.laurentcoq.com
Label: Sunnyside Records | Release date: August 2012
Reviewed by: Raul da Gama