The reeds and woodwinds artist Alexey León is easily one of the most refreshing voices in Afro-Cuban music. His playing may be characterised by the virile energy that he brings to his music. And Influenciado is typical of this [high] quality of playing music throughout its hour-or-so of music. What strikes one about his music, in the first instance, is that he writes music with terrific panache. He espouses music which is melodically bold, texturally intricate when it comes to melody and rhythm. All the elements of his work are allied to a sensitive awareness of the rich, varied palette of horn colour.
On Influenciado – and together with a power-packed and brilliant cohort of musicians, acutely attuned to his vision and artistry – Mr León conveys the extreme muscularity of Afro-Cuban music, carrying the ear convincingly through passages of familiar music with enticing melodic and harmonic conception. The jazz standards, [Bobby Timmons’] “Dat Dere” and [Dorothy Fields’] “The Way You Look Tonight” illustrate this kind of music quite brilliantly. The latter song unfolds with such bristling energy that you might expect it to unwind ferociously, with such crackling fire that you would expect it to blow up at any time. However, perish the thought, because that impending explosion does not take place until the length and breadth – the tunnels and high walls of the harmony – are explored with magical invention.
As an alto saxophonist Mr León has quite an unique voice. He plays with pronounced rhythmic verve, textural variety and dynamism. The alto saxophonist paints his music with bold primary colours [as in “De la Habana a Moscú”]. However, he also captures nuanced imagery when he writes, and this is the feature of “Kiev Station Blues” with its subtle pastels. He shapes songs with wide and long inventions and when the idea calls for it [as in “Guarachando…”] he sculpts the music with tapered phrases and an amorphous pulse that renders the piece’s dreamy subtext with uncommon ingenuity.
As already suggested, the music on this album is uplifted by true musical heavyweights: trumpeter Carlitos Sarduy plays with nervy, inspired mastery throughout; the pianist Javier Gutiérrez – better known as “Caramelo de Cuba” – weaves his way into this music with vivid personality; bassist Reinier Elizarde “El Negrón” rumbles on contrabass with restless energy. The sound of the bàtá [notably on “Dat Dere”, again rather masterfully in the opening section and the refrains of “The Way You Look Tonight”], and the conga – in the hands of Pedro Pablo Rodríguez is quite breathtaking, as are the drumming accomplishments of both Georvis Pico and Marc Miralta. Together these musicians pull together to produce a work of quite rare genius, which aptly describes – in the first instance – the performance of alto saxophonist and flutist, Alexey León.
Track list – 1: Dat Dere; 2: De la Habana a Moscú/From Havana to Moscow; 3: Influenciado; 4: La Ceiba [intro]; 5: La Ceiba; 6: Kiev Station Blues; 7: Guarachando en Moscú; 8: Ya voy; 9: The Way You Look Tonight; 10: Noche de Carnaval
Personnel – Alexey León: alto saxophone and flute [8, 10]; Carlos Sarduy: trumpet [1 – 3, 5, 7 – 10]; Javier Gutiérrez “Caramelo de Cuba”: piano; Reinier Elizarde “El Negrón”: contrabass; Pedro Pablo Rodríguez: bàtá [1, 3 – 5, 7, 8] and congas [2, 9, 10]; Georvis Pico: drums [1 – 3, 9, 10]; Marc Miralta: drums [3, 5 – 8]
Released – 2021
Label – One World Records [ALCV 2021]
Runtime – 48:34
Featured photo: Alexey León by Carolina Vallejo