Monday, December 30, 2013

Alexis Cuadrado's latest is a jazz classic

Posted By on Mon, Dec 30, 2013 at 10:43 AM

Alexis Cuadrado
A Lorca Soundscape
Sunnyside; Release date: Oct. 22, 2013


Every year, jazz critics go through a frenetic rush, trying to catch up on all the likely candidates for his or her Top 10. Sure, we've all heard the big-name blue chippers, but I know part of the exercise is finding the new blood, the heirs of tomorrow, and recognizing them among the established elite. Amid all the welter of overpraised squonk-athons and self-deluded debuts that I must listen to in this quest, I'm inevitably rewarded with wondrous discoveries - of new voices, new talents or a keeper of the flame that I've too long overlooked.

This year, the find of finds is unquestionably bassist Alexis Cuadrado's suite of seven original compositions, each set to one or more of Federico Garcia Lorca's angry and surreal poems from his Poeta en Nueva York, or Poet in New York. Resurrecting a text that I hadn't savored since my college days, this CD proves that the anguished lyrics Lorca wrote as a Spanish immigrant to the Big Apple in the wake of the stock market crash of 1929 are no less vivid and pertinent in the wake of new ruins heaped on the masses by the untouchable barons of Wall Street.

We hear the original free verse sung without affectation in an amazingly vibrant performance by Claudia Acuña, but the fire of Lorca's emotion is even more powerfully communicated - without any need for translation - by alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, the one player here that I already knew. It's difficult to say where Zenón burns most ferociously, but his special heat is certainly evident in "New York (Office and Denunciation)" and the smoldering "Dawn," which ends with the two most devastating lines in the entire Lorca Soundscape:

Por los barrios hay gentes que vacilan insomnes
como recién salidas de un naufragio de sangre.
(And crowds stagger sleeplessly through the boroughs
as if they had just escaped a shipwreck of blood.)

The whole project reaches its zenith in the valedictory "Waltz in the Branches." Starting off quietly like a lyrical ballad, with Cuadrado's most eloquent instrumental statement on bass following some lovely work by pianist Dan Tepfer, the piece builds organically to white-hot fury with Acuña's most passionate singing, subsiding no less naturally to quiet, bitter despair. When Zenón's sax layers onto the most frenetic, phantasmagoric section of the piece, we reach heights unheard of since John Coltrane's A Love Supreme.

About the only imperfection I could find was in Sunnyside's packaging, which seemed to omit a booklet and a translation of the lyrics. After a few plays, I noticed the small print on the CD saying a PDF file with a booklet could be accessed by inserting the disc in a computer. That's the only place where the English titles and translation quoted above can be found. Good reason to buy the CD instead of merely downloading an mp3.

Oh yeah, this gem definitely made my Top 10. With a bullet.

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