Alex Garcia’s Afromantra | Uplifting Spirit / Espiritu Optimista

Afromantra Records

The modernity of this rich collection of eleven original Latin-Jazz compositions from drummer-composer Alex Garcia sets it apart from much music in the genre. Uplifting Spirit is more Latin with fusion jazz and post-bop than Latin with bop or straight-ahead jazz. The Latin side of the equation includes the expected Cuban influence but also Chilean, Afro-Peruvian, Columbian and more. Almost all of the pieces mix meters and forms. Strong classical elements emerge and free jazz erupts here and there splashing forth like Tabasco sauce.

Reading the liner notes helps explain the mix. Alex Garcia grew up in Chile, Peru and Cuba, then moved to New York City. His father was a musicologist and contemporary classical composer, his mother a choreographer and dancer, who, he says, was “always looking for music for her choreography”. Garcia’s list of influences includes a vast variety of styles and musicians, among them; Miles Davis, Keith Jarret, Michael Brecker, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, French rock group Magma, Peru Negro, Hindu music, Cuban popular music (Adalberto Alvarez y su son, Los Van Van), Cuban jazz (Gonzalo Rubacalba, Paquito D’Rivera, Irakere), jazz fusion (Chick Corea, Weather Report, John Scofield) and Chilean bands like Al Sur and Congreso.

This spirit of eclecticism runs through the entire CD. The opening conga and piano vamp to the title track, “The Uplifting Spirit of our Soul” seems standard enough, but then the sax of Ole Mathisen blows in — or should I say, out? — free and strident, then brightly melodic. The piece is a rousing start to the CD, treating the listener to Latin grooves, excellent congas from Aryam Vasquez, nice Fender Rhodes from Pablo Vergara and Walter Chavez’ bass rumbling under a virtuosic outpouring of drums and cymbals from Alex Garcia egged on by the frantically intense rhythm piano of Desmar Guevara. The piece puts me in mind of Either/Orchestra’s Live in Addis, Rick Lazar’s Montuno Police and even David Murray. Very exciting.

“Latin American Song” has more of a folk-traditional feel to it moving from rumba to a 6/8 African or Colombian rhythm and yet is also very much jazz, moving smoothly between styles with sweet soprano saxophone, rich percussion and strains of “Mandinga”. Electric bass underpins the whole and eventually moves to the forefront in a solo.

“Luna & the Sun” starts with meditative classical piano joined by a very smooth saxophone before the bass comes in and delicate cymbals decorate. The cajon provides a strong rhythmic force, yet overall the piece is impressionistic. With its use of keyboard effects and subdued electric bass, it has a reflective ECM feel.

“For Emiliano” takes the tempo back up with odd meters. A solid jazz-Latin hybrid with fusion affinities, it is a tribute to the Cuban composer and pianist Emiliano Salvador. Appropriately, it features Manuel Verara on piano. A little over five minutes through, all comes to a halt for the drum solo which lasts for over three minutes before the congas come in and a twice-repeated piano chord announces the end. Then the whole band takes off for another brief run together before a Debussy-like descending piano chord ending. That drum solo is impressive and the more I hear it, the less of a problem I find it to be, but after being carried along on a rush of layered sounds it is hard to adjust to such a long drum solo, at least on CD.

“Because of You (Por Ti)” is described as Afro-Peruvian/Chilean/Afro-Cuban 6/8. It’s a celebratory piece with a mellow-timbred tenor blowing the melody over piano. The bass gets thick and funky, the Fender Rhodes slides in and solos and the guitar brings in a flamenco tinge. The percussion section includes drums, cajon, timbales and batas.

“New Dawn” opens to a soprano and tenor dialogue over Rhodes with nice bass work and proceeds in a mellow tone until it hits a percussive break-up and moves in a new direction, ever-changing as the listener will have come to expect by this point. “Yemaya” is a rich piece both passionate and light and bright.

“Autumn Dreams” is the only slow danzon/ballad on the CD. It is a lovely classical and jazz blend played by the trio of Pablo Vergara on piano, Waldo Chavez on bass and Alex Garcia on drums. With “Green Horizons” we are back to Latin jazz and odd meters, the sax of Ole Mathisen and Fender Rhodes. Congas, drums and timbales weave a dense percussion and the whole ends with a high sax note changing timbre as it fades.

“Lighting the World” features a pretty melody and moves through guajira, cha-cha and funk. The bass is outstanding, picked like a guitar. The piece is melodic and dreamy with an almost classical piano that puts me in mind of D.D. Jackson. It is also kind of free and funky.

“My Word”, the last piece on the CD leaves you wanting more. When you think this “bomba” is ending, it is really only about mid-way through and relaunches with a “makatu” rhythm. Propelled by enormous energy it reaches exhilarating intensity and climaxes in a bubbling percussion and drums finale. Wow! Time for another spin.

Alex Garcia’s Afromantra’s Uplifting Spirit is a complex offering that is immediately enjoyable but rewards repeated listening as most really good music does.

reviewed by Joyce Corbett February 2007

Alex Garcia – drums, timbales, percussion
Ole Mathisen – tenor & soprano saxophones
Pablo Vergara – piano, fender rhodes, keyboards
Waldo Chavez – bass
Aryam Vazquez – congas, batas, cajon, percussion

Special Guests
Manuel Valera – piano, fender rhodes (tracks 4 & 6)
Desmar Guevara – piano (track 2)
Jorge Castro – sax
Jorge Fernando Rodriguez – acoustic guitar (track 5)
Jorge Bringas – bass (track 2)
Yordamis Megret – voice

The tracks
1. The Uplifting Spirit of our Soul 2. Latin American Song 3. Luna and the Sun
4. For Emiliano Salvador 5. Because of You 6. New Dawn 7. Yemaya, Goddess of the Sea
8. Autumn Dreams 9. Green Horizons 10. Lighting the World 11. My Word
We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
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