Emilio Solla & The Tango Jazz Conspiracy: Bien Sur! (2010)
Things are rarely as they initially appear, as if the eyeand by extension, the written wordis but a trickster requiring closer scrutinizing. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was indeed right when he claimed "If you wish to see, listen; hearing is a step towards vision."
Take for example Bien Sur!, by pianist Emilio Solla and his Tango Jazz Conspiracy band. If the pairing of the stately Argentinean dance with jazz in the same breath is an instantaneous turnoff, read on anyways, as the band's sobriquet hardly renders justice to its music. In fact, like many popular labels created by roguish marketers, the term "tango-jazz" strikes first as a paradox. How can jazz be fused into the tango, or the tango be jazzed up without grossly misrepresenting either traditions? Well, like any effective conspirator playing on divergent positions so as to quash institutions, Solla puts the suspicious proposition to rest, and achieves superlative results in the process.
Putting a new spin on the customary presentation of the contemporary acoustic jazz formula, the pianist's plot is no trickery. Proficient in the classical, jazz and Argentinean folk traditions, Solla has reached an artistic level where his mastery of performance practice and creativity mesh into a single vision of the musical act, be it improvisational or composed. Considering his talent, experience, and wealth of influences, the band's relatively low profile appears somewhat surprising. His sixth outing as a leader, Bien Sur! comes as tight and broad artistically, as challenging and entertaining musically, and as gripping on both the sensory and cerebral levels as any other recent recording. There is, indeed, much to love about this album.
First, a refreshing joie de vivre emanates from the gathering. Candidly captured in the cover photo (which shows the grizzled leader tabled outside a bistro terrace), the feeling is also captioned in the almost raucous, collective chanting of "Candombley," as well as in the musicians' unabashed break of laughter that closes "Chakafrik"'s particularly slippery coda. Second, the wide variety of genres, playing styles and compositional techniques that mold the pieces say much to Solla's well-honed sensitivity towards musical form and mood-setting, as well as his conducive approach to programming. The leader's thoughtful use of traditional patterns (of course, Argentinean, but also African, Spanish and Uruguayan)which act as rhythmic substrates throughout the albumare laudable. Stately and grand, yet watermarked and pliable, the spirit of the tango, when present, adapts to the music's alien influences and improvised looseness without taking the entire floor. Lastly, with such respectable talents as accordion titan Victor Prieto, melodic blower Chris Cheek and master drummers Richie Barshay and Billy Hart (who guests on one track), the pianist could not have asked for a better cast to inject soul into his charts.
Bien Sur! is an enjoyable disc, one which may attract some jazz listeners to the tango...without them having to take out their dancing shoes.
Track Listing: Remain Alert; Payos; Hartbeat; Malena; Chakafrik; Candombley; Tonos Lejanos.
Personnel: Emilio Solla: piano; Richie Barshay: drums; Billy Hart: drums(3); Jorge Roeder: bass; Victor Prieto: accordion; Chris Cheek: soprano, tenor & baritone saxophones; Arturo Prendez: tambores (6); Manuel Silva: tambores (6); Ramon Echegaray: tambores (6); Lucia Polido: voice (7); Tim Armacost: soprano saxophone (5).