Sometimes, the brilliance of certain inventions can be measured by how common place they seem. The music of Venezuelan pianist Silvano Monasterios is so easy-on-the-ear, so elegantly structured, and has such a casual, lived-in feel that it might take a bit to catch on to how sophisticated his work is. It’s only after awhile that one notices the harmonic turns, the storytelling soloing, or the rhythmic vocabulary, specially his discreet use of traditional Venezuelan styles.
For starters, Unconditional, is Monasterios’ fourth album and he clearly feels no need to accommodate any conventional expectations about how Latin jazz should sound like. Whatever someone might argue to be some essence of “Latin,” is here integrated into the overall sound. To list the parts is to miss the whole – and one suspects, its intention.
Leading a limber, efficient quintet — Troy Roberts, sax; Jon Dadurka, bass; Rodolfo Zuñiga, drums; and José Gregorio Hernández, percussion – Monasterios offers in Unconditional fusion with an accent, lyrical, and remarkably cliché-free.
And when Monasterios explicitly uses Venezuelan folk rhythms as the basis of a piece — as in “Sno’ Peas” where he uses gaita zuliana, a rhythm original of the Zulia state which, Monasterios explains, is danced at Christmas time, or the slow swinging “Black Saint,” in which he draws from the traditional drumming for San Benito, a black saint — he also feels free to use a passage of straight ahead, driving swing for release and contrast or use a Fender Rhodes to evoke a certain feel. Or he can also set up a muscular, straight ahead hard-driving blowing vehicle such “Forgotten Gods.” Or, as in the title track, design a classic ballad in which the melody unfurls unhurriedly before the soloists take over and elaborate, telling their own stories.
The eight pieces in Unconditional are originals by Monasterios and, throughout, there is attention to detail, be it regarding song forms, the structuring of the soloing or the use of unexpected rhythmic shifts, some of which suggest a sort of rhythm quoting.
In Monasterios’ music, fun and beauty unfold with a purpose – and jazz becomes an inch wider and deeper.
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From the Better-late-than–never bin …
(Music we didn’t want to miss)
Released in the United States in April, Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick’s Skala (ECM) is a follow up of sorts to The Door (ECM, 2008). It’s a larger ensemble and a broader palette, but size is not the point. What’s striking here is Eick’s pop approach in his writing (the sing-songy, catchy melodies often reinforce the notion of instrumental songs waiting for lyrics), the overall, often aggressive, driving energy, and the production (he gets co-producer credits). The musical references in Skala are quite disparate. The beautiful, expansive title track, a wordless song that builds on short elegiac trumpet phrases and a muscular Tore Brunborg’s Jan Garbarek-influenced tenor solo, turns out to have been influenced by Sting’s “Shape of My Heart.” And “Oslo,” which features two drummers churning a dense storm underneath, suggests Radiohead or late 70s Brian Eno exploding to a (sort of) go-go beat. And then Eick openly tips his hat to Joni Mitchell in the very un-Mitchell-like “Joni.”
Skala blurs the lines between jazz, the austere esthetics of ECM, and avant-pop — and each in its own way, is better off for it.
August 2011 The International Review of Music/ Jazz With An Accent