It might be tempting to compare Felipe Salles’ tone on Departure on tenor saxophone with the depth and warmth of tenor Joe Henderson, but that might be somewhat of a mistake.
Mr. Salles may have something of Mr. Henderson in him; there is no escaping the influence of the latter, a great saxophonist, whose shadow falls upon many who pick up that horn. However, Mr. Salles has quite a unique voice. This has nothing to do with the fact that he is Brazilian and boasts all of the fluidity that propels someone like Leo Gandelman, for instance. Not at all; but Mr. Salles’ playing sounds as if his breath was poured into the horn like an eternal bubbling brook for he does not seem to breathe into the instrument as much as he tends to pour out something somewhat more viscous most times. His playing the tenor horn is that elemental; like a force of nature that gushes out from a vortex within him and fills the atmosphere that welcomes this force as if it were—in relative silence—starved for Mr. Salles’ mighty sound. His tone is thus informed by a gravitas that belies a majesty that not many saxophonists can speak of and it behoves a musician like him to be taken seriously especially as he plays with astounding expression and deep emotion. Mr. Salles also has great control and remarkable awareness of colour and texture.
There is also that other aspect of Mr. Salles’ playing that comes from his deft manipulation of the soprano saxophone. Here too he is not shrill, but rather plaintive and moving. His playing is wonderfully warm and it is also exciting in the fact that it is expressed with both the ache of longing as well as the exhilaration that comes from being Brazilian. It is the amazing and open-hearted sound of one who was born to saudades and alegria. All of this mastery and uniqueness on the tenor saxophone is captured on “Departure” a beautifully angular composition that mixes a truly exquisite and exotic melody with the offbeat jabbing of a constantly shifting rhythm. Mr. Salles also adds another yawning sonic vortex to his tenor horn by adding the gentle accents of his bass clarinet and all of this is melded in with the glow of Randy Brecker’s glistening trumpet. And then there is “Béla’s Reflection” a gorgeous, thoughtful chart that celebrates its melody with all the glimmer and furious gush of emotional playing that speaks of the both Mr. Salles’ as well Mr. Brecker’s mastery of their respective instruments. The two musicians provide a stunning display of conversation that is akin to the interminable dance of some kind of musical DNA molecule.
Felipe Salles is never very far from the tantalizing rhythms of Brazil and this is not only evident on “Departure” but perhaps a little more clear and certainly more dazzling on “Maracatu d’Orleans” The musicianship of the Uruguayan-born pianist, Nando Michelin, who displays not only dazzling technique and virtuosity, but also the fact that he carries as much of the Brazilian sensibility in his pianism that makes it possible for him to sound almost as if he were ethnically someone from the Northeastern part of Brazil. His percussive attack on the melodic twists and turns of the challenging music of Felipe Salles’ music makes him sound as much as any Brasileiro does, complete with the sense of longing and elemental joy in his playing.
There is much to be said about Felipe Salles’ skills as a composer not all of which might be possible in a document of this nature. Suffice it to say that his musical works show that he has a truly sophisticated intellect that seems to be made almost entirely of music. He has a great understanding of the emotion and mood of each note that he writes. Thus he can dictate a phrase or line in the language of his music that is almost human in the manner in which it captures that which is meant to be expressed as a human emotion, in an art that can be abstract and impressionistic as music. All this indicates that much would be heard about Felipe Salles, if not in the immediate future then certainly in a not too distant one. A talent with so much to offer is irrepressible and as his repertoire increases Mr. Salles will surely become a major player in the burgeoning world of contemporary music.
Tracks: Departure; Seagull’s Island; Béla’s Reflection; Maracatu d’Orleans; Awaiting; B’s Blues; Schoenberg’s Error; Adagio Triste; Natural Selection.
Personnel: Felipe Salles: tenor and soprano saxophones, flutes, bass clarinet; Randy Brecker: trumpet; Nando Michelin: piano; Keala Kaumeheiwa: bass; Bertram Lehmann: drums; Laura Arpianen: violin.
Felipe Salles on the Web: www.sallesjazz.com
Label: Tapestry Records
Release date: October 2012
Reviewed by: Raul da Gama