New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: Michael Olivera drums

Epic, Spine-Tingling Spanish Dances and a Queens Show by Fiery Violinist Maureen Choi

Violinst Maureen Choi found her muse when she immersed herself in Spanish music. She likes epics and big, explosive crescendos: her music is not for the timid or people with ADD. Her new kick-ass album Theia is streaming at her music page – and it’s one of the most unselfconsciously adrenalizing records of the year. Her slashing, often Romany and Arabic-tinged compositions rise and fall and leap all over the place, and the fun her band has with them is contagious. She’s playing Terraza 7 on June 29 at 9 PM; cover is $15.

Choi flurries and flares over drummer Michael Olivera’s suspenseful flickers throughout the dramatic intro to the album’s first cut, Dear Paco (Cepa Andaluza); then bassist Mario Carrillo joins the party, pianist Daniel Garcia Diego firing off fiery, Middle Eastern-tinged chromatics.

Phoenix Borealis is a diptych of sorts, hushed luminosity bookending a ferocious flamenco dance with a big explosion of drums and some of the most savagely bowed bass in recent memory. Choi follows the same trajectory in Dance of the Fallen, painting plaintively resonatn lines over Garcia Diego’s elegant chromatic ripples and graceful chordal work.

Canto Salamanchino is a cheery number that shifts in and out of waltz time, between major and minor, with a deliciously pointillistic, chromatic piano solo midway through and an unexpected detour into Chinese pastoralia afterward. Silverio O. Garcia has a hushed, elegaic quality, violin and piano echoing each other’s plaintive riffs. Steady pitchblende menace gives way to acerbic Andalucian flair and a series of crashing crescendos in Sinner’s Prayer

Love Is the Answer is a somewhat muted, almost wrenchingly bittersweet ballad: imagine Chano Dominguez taking a crack at Schubert. Choi kicks off Bok Choi Pajarillo with a big solo that shifts cleverly between Romany intensity and the baroque; from there, it’s a flamenco rollercoaster.

The album closes with its two most towering epics. Septenber the First, the album’s most haunting number, has a persistently uneasy late-summer haziness, part Palestinian-flavored dirge and anguished string-jazz lament. Choi closes the record with Danza Ritual Del Fuego: from an allusive intro that could be Dave Brubeck, through a long Afro-Cuban-inflected interlude, it’s more simmer than fullscale inferno, with a coy false ending. Count this as one of the best albums of 2019 in any style of music.

Pianist Alfredo Rodriguez Brings His Glistening, Fearlessly Relevant Cuban Jazz Uptown

Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez’s recordings run hot and cold. He can take your breath away with his towering majesty; other times, he overreaches. When he’s at the top of his game, he’s a great tunesmith. His latest album The Little Dream – streaming at Spotify – was conceived in opposition to the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant bigotry, in particular the clampdown on DACA and the deportation of children and families. The result is a characteristic mix of material that draws equally on classical, latin and more recent postbop jazz. Rodriguez and his trio, bassist Munir Hossn and drummer Michael Olivera are playing the Miller Theatre this Saturday night, March 3 at 8 PM; you can get in for as low as $20.

Throughout the album, Rodriguez’s playing is remarkably spare and focused: this is his most minimalist work to date. It opens somewhat jarringly with Dawn, a haphazard juxtaposition of Rodriguez’s signature neoromantic glimmer and gravitas, postbop scramble and what could be soukous, Hossn scurrying way up high as Olivera flurries frenetically.

The title cut has an insistently verdant, Pat Metheny-ish PBS title theme feel: Hossn channels Jerry Garcia, way up the fretboard, then Rodriguez hits a terse stride interlude. It’s a celebration of the “dreamer” kids’ resilience rather than a commentary on their precarious status in the United States.

The whole band gets into picturesque, pointillistic mode for Silver Rain. Likewise, Rodriguez works variations on a shiny, glistening bucolic theme in Bloom while Olivera circles hypnotically with his brushes, and Hossn bends and perambulates with his treble turned all the way up.

Unlike what its title might have you thinking, Dance Like a Child has a terse, darkly bluesy focus, Rodriguez shifting through increasingly enigmatic, animated cascades to lingering, looping phrases. He artfully spaces his colorful riffs in Vamos Todos a Cantar, Hossn adding yet more spiky upper-register work, this time with son jarocho tinges.

Interestingly,  Besame Mucho – ostensibly the most recorded song in history – is where Rodriguez really distinguishes himself, with his tersely balletesque pulse, austere lyricism and soul-infused Fender Rhodes voicings as the rhythm section shuffles mutedly. A lot of artists never get to this song’s haunting, wounded inner core, but Rodriguez does, all the way through to an ending so simple it’s crushing.

Hossn’s muted plinks evoke a kora as the glimmering Tree of Stars comes together, up to a triumphantly precise, spiraling coda. The spare but insistent song without words World of Colors is almost stunningly translucent yet just as bittersweet.

True to its title, Alegria leaps and pounces with a joyous Spanish Caribbean folk feel hitched to sparkling Metheny drama, although the light electronic touches don’t add anything. A Rodriguez album wouldn’t be complete without a moody nocturne, so Moonbeam fits the bill, but with more slink and space than usual: it’s the strongest track. The final cut is a fusiony mess and should have been left on the cutting room floor. Another thing this album could stand to lose is the echoey, wordless vocals, which aren’t anywhere near boisterous enough to evoke flamenco, and often drift perilously close to new age music. Rodriguez’s concise, vivid tunes stand on their own just fine without them.