Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More New (to Me) Sounds, Part I

I got to rave about one of my favorite new (to me) artists in this space the other day; now, let's talk about some more people that have recently flown onto my radar screen.

I was originally going to discuss a few people today, but I ended up having so much to say about Alexis Cuadrado that he gets his own post, and I'll save the rest for tomorrow. The Spanish-born bassist and composer--a New York resident since the late '90s--has three recordings to his credit, and each one explores a slightly different side of this multitalented musician:
  • Metro (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2001), is a fine debut featuring the woodwinds of Kris Bauman (whose quartet features Cuadrado among its members) and Steve Cárdenas' guitar. The program features all original compositions, including the slightly off-kilter Afro-Cuban groove of Nit to the Methenyish New and Old and the wacky 11/8 romp of 'Round Mingus.

  • On VIsual (FSNT, 2004), Cuadrado expands his group to a sextet, scrapping the keyboard while adding two horns: the amazing John Ellis joins Bauman on woodwinds, while Alan Ferber--brother of drummer Mark, also in the group--rounds out the horn section on trombone. (Any relation between the instrumentation of this group and my own sextet only adds to the interest on this end.) All the compositions are again Cuadrado originals save one (the well-known folk song "Te Recuerdo Amanda" by the Chilean Victor Jara), and he puts his expanded instrumentation to good use (besides the common saxophone-guitar unison, he also puts trombone with guitar as an underpinning for the two saxophones, and bass clarinet with bass. Also, he does a good job of apportioning the melody between different horns, and he's not averse to calling for collective improvisation on occasion. (Extra points are awarded in my book for giving Cárdenas the chance to rock out on occasion.) Among my personal favorite tunes are the ECM-in-7/4 gem "Black Tulip," the mellow "Camperdown Elm" and the funky closer, "Quick."

  • Cuadrado calls his newest effort, Puzzles (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records, 2008), his most personal album to date, and it could be said that this is literally true, since the set was recorded in his Brooklyn living room. The instrumentation is reduced to a quartet: Mark Ferber remains on board, while Brad Shepik replaces Cárdenas on guitar, and the sax honors are done by the Brooklyn-based wunderkind Loren Stillman (indeed, being a Stillman fan was what turned me onto Cuadrado in the first place, through an eMusic search that led me to this album; that's one of the reasons why I'm sticking with the service despite its upcoming policy changes). There's even a homecoming of sorts, as Alan Ferber's trombone makes an appearance on a few tunes, as does organist Pete Rende (who played Rhodes and pedal steel on Metro) on "B&W Pop."

    Cuadrado shows growth as a melodist on this set; the tunes are even more hummable than before. The interplay between the musicians is extremely effective, and Stillman sounds so at home on this set that I would have sworn that he had written some of them himself. Personal favorites include the opener, "Bright Light," the energetic 5/8 "Quintessential" and the Latin-influenced "Tango." Even though all three of these albums have had slightly different personnel, the Puzzles quartet is one that I would love to see in person and hear on a few recordings.
Remember the name Alexis Cuadrado; I'm willing to bet that he'll be making a major contribution to jazz for a long time to come.

TOMORROW: I'll go all ECM on you guys for a bit.

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