What can you say about the album Mélange by Kalí Rodríguez-Peña? So many things, really… For one: it’s the kind of album that instantly leaps out at you from the plethora that land on your desk. The music on it is so brimful with songfulness. And even the most meditative songs on it still make the music so danceable that you find yourself doing just that. Moreover, the music is so beckoning you almost instantly want to buy up copies of it to give it to friends, family and music lovers wherever they may be.
There is a genuine innocence about the musician who is Kalí Rodríguez-Peña. His genius stems from the fact that his approach to music originates from a sense of playfulness with notes, melody, harmony and rhythm. He plays as he writes too; and the sense of wonderment is so palpable that you feel this trumpet-playing artist is made almost completely of music. But wait; there is more… listening to what he does with the traditional lullaby, “Drume Mobila”, will make you gasp for breath because he does the impossible – he makes the song even more lovely; aimed right at the heart – in fact what he does with the song is turn it into heart-music.
Of course Mr Rodríguez-Peña is not the only one responsible for making the aforementioned come about. A great deal of the heart-soft impact of the song comes from the fact that it seems sacred in its solitude. Pianist Aruán Ortíz makes that happen with his sweeping impressionism and long, fluttering inventions. Vocalist Gina D’Soto puts the proverbial icing atop the lyric with her whisper-soft rendition of the song. Both these musicians weave that dramatic voicing into Mr Rodríguez-Peña’s sculpted lines, all of which goes to giving the music an almost sacred sheen.
“Drume Mobila” is the quietest song on the album; its solemn Madonna-and-child-like rocking pulse and rhythm is also the most balletic song on the album. Everything else is eloquently fierce. Mr Rodríguez-Peña’s penchant for invention is certainly evident in his own compositions. But it is the manner in which approaches standards that is fresh and completely out of the axiomatic left-field. Take the song “Yes or No” by Wayne Shorter. The re-invention of the harmonic conception of this song borders on impetuous and here’s why:
Taking a Shorter song – any song – and “mixing” it up so that it bakes like a whole new cake – one that not only looks different, but also tastes completely different. This is what happens here when Mr Rodríguez-Peña brings the full impact of his genius for re-harmonisation to a standard work. And then there is the matter of how the inimitable drummer Zack O’Farrill re-creates the rhythm of the song with such a wide open pulse that it leaves a kind of shifting space for the other [instrumental] ‘voices’ to innovate. This is also a wonderful example of how Mr Rodríguez-Peña is able to re-write a work using musical acute and obtuse angles.
Mr Rodríguez-Peña also breaks on through in his writing on the breathtaking version of “Like Someone in Love” as he turns the mushy romanticism of the original song into a breezy, sensual and balletic interplay between two lovers. His magical re-harmonisation and rhythmic sculpture here is wholly refreshing and inventive. You will see this – albeit in a radically different manner – on Mr Rodríguez-Peña’s monumental and spacey “Thinking of the Universe”, a song that is Mr Rodriguez-Peña’s response to the mystery of space that is beyond eyesight.
Through all of this we find that Mr Rodriguez-Peña is not only a fiercely creative musician, but also a lyrical poet of song and this is, perhaps, the most refreshing aspect of his musicianship. This fact and the ability as a young trumpeter to display an almost fully-formed voice, one that holds its own in the entire continuum of music is indeed a treat to discern and behold.
Now when you add the magic of bassist Bam Bam Rodríguez, the ingenious pianism of Gabriel Chakarji and the woody thunder of the barril and the resonant thump and caress of the congas at the hands of Victor Pablo García and the soaring vocals of Jeremy Bosch into the bubbling cauldron of music all of this makes for a memorable musical mix – one that makes the Mélange so irresistible that it makes you leap out of your chair and dance.
Track list – 1: Yes or No; 2: A Student is Not a Disciple; 3: La Historia de Eréndira; 4: Drume Mobila; 5: Like Someone in Love; 6: Interlude; 7: Thinking of the Universe; 8: Las Memorias de las Calles; 9: Se Acabó
Personnel – Kalí Rodríguez-Peña: trumpet; Kazemde George: tenor saxophone; Gabriel Chakarji: piano, keyboards and Fender Rhodes; Bam Bam Rodríguez: contrabass and electric bass; Zack O’Farrill: drums; Victor Pablo García: congas, barril and percussion – Special Guests – Gina D’Soto: vocals ; Jeremy Bosch: lead vocals ; Aruán Ortíz: piano 
Released – 2022
Label – Truth Revolution Records [TRRC 056]
Runtime – 1:00:30