If music could be transformed into a visual canvas every time it was heard then the music of Oscar Peñas would turn into a flowing water colour that was constantly evolving as it bubbled and gushed, or trickled and traipsed across its own imaginary topographical ocean.
Reflecting the myriad colours and shades of daylight and the every multiplying colours and shades of the crepuscular hours, Peñas’ music is ever-changing as it courses on its canvas in a constant state of energy that is at once gentle and calm as well as propulsive and pulsating. As a composer therefore Peñas must have a mind that never sleeps. His soul also appears to be darting everywhere it can find space and with a curiosity that is singular, it rushes out to find every nook and cranny where melody can be heard, dancing there and adding harmony to this melody. Such is the spritely nature of this guitarist and musician that following his musical journey—especially on his album From Now On —is like pursuing a sort of musical Holy Grail.
It is not that this music is elusive, rather that it is full of adventure like the proverbial tale of reaching out for that mystical chalice. Happiness abounds in Peñas’ music as does a mesmerising geometry that flavours the melodic sojourns that his music embarks on. With decidedly singular tuning of his guitar, Peñas forges unique relationships with the other instruments performing his repertoire. This is fascinating to behold and it sounds as magical as ever in the dervish-like murmuring of Gil Goldstein’s accordion that swathes the nylon strings of Peñas’ guitar on the majestic stretches that meander across verse after verse of “From Now On” and on the moving portrait, “Julia”. Moreover as most individualists almost always find a snug bedfellow in one other musician in the band, Peñas has developed this special relationship with his bassist, Moto Fukushima. The ornate excursions that the bassist takes at Peñas’ urging on “Continuum” and on “Samuel Smith”—as well as on “Encuentro,” and on a few of the other remaining tracks—are truly special. This is also reminiscent of the special telepathy that seemed to exist between John Coltrane and Elvin Jones, as well as Charles Mingus and Dannie Richmond, between Thelonious Monk and Charlie Rouse.
However this is only some of the beauty of Oscar Peñas album. Much of its rarity comes from the molten mix of steamy idioms: flamenco and jazz; and add to this a seminal mixture of a magic potion of Latin American dialects, from the aching beauty of Brazilian Choro to the dreamy swirl of Cuban Habanera and a host of other musical tongues. In this respect Oscar Peñas is truly a guitarist who is well-travelled musically, but who has also imbued the delightful foreign musical tongues, but who has also learned to live and dream in them. This is rare talent indeed, which is something to be cherished about this fine guitarist and musician.
Tracks: Continuum; Choro, No. 1 (Guinga); From Now On; Samuel Smith; Encuentro; Choro, No. 2 (Corpo); Julia; Adéu.
Personnel: Oscar Peñas: nylon string guitar, electric guitar; Dan Blake: tenor and soprano saxophones; Moto Fukushima: six string electric bass; Richie Barshay: drums, percussion, pandeiro; Gil Goldstein: accordion (3, 7), piano (4); Franco Pinna: bombo legüero (3).
Oscar Peñas – Official Website: www.oscarpenas.com
Label: BJUR Records
Release date: August 2011
Reviewed by: Raul da Gama