Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Intriguingly Poetic Spanish and English Jazz Album From Roxana Amed

Singer Roxana Amed writes vividly and poetically in both English and her native Spanish. The Argentine expat’s transition to a new life in the free state of Florida was not easy, but it inspired her to new, individualistic heights of creativity that blend Buenos Aires art-song with American jazz and other styles. Every time she hears a tune she likes, it seems she wants to write lyrics for it: so much the better.

Her new album – streaming at Spotify – is titled Ontology. Is this a magnum opus, her Being and Nothingness? It’s more of a concise document of where her music is at right now. She’s got a killer band behind her, the core comprising the reliably excellent Martin Bejerano on piano, with Mark Small on sax, Edward Perez on bass, and Ludwig Alfonso on drums.

Guitarist Aaron Lebos runs a menacing loop as Bejerano adds sinister glitter in the slow, slinky, Lynchian intro to the album’s opening track, Tumbleweed, Small wafting in from the distance. Amed’s uncluttered images of a troubled heart completely adrift add an increasingly disquieting edge as the music grows more anthemic, Perez dancing on coals out of the choruses. It’s a hard act to follow.

Chacarera Para La Mano Izquierda is a darkly rhythmic Bejerano tune with allusively celebratory lyrics by Amed, pouncing along with thorny syncopation. Small’s balmy lines float over Bejerano’s unhurried, glistening motives, guitarist Tim Jago adding resonance to Amed’s new vocal version of a Kendall Moore ballad, Peaceful: the gist is that a moment of calm gives us strength to regroup.

Amed reinvents Wayne Shorter’s Virgo as a slowly unfolding, misty-toned, blues-infused cosmology, backed by just spare piano and sax. For Miles Davis’ Blue in Green, she draws on the Cassandra Wilson version: Amed’s take has considerably more of a bounce, fueled by Jago’s dancing solo over Lowell Ringel’s bass and Rodolfo Zuniga’s lively drums.

Last Happy Hour is not a requiem for a bar but for Bejerano’s father, in the form of  a saturnine, stately pulsing, raptly mystical garden tableau. In her liner notes, Amed admits that tango for her is a pretty dark place, and that’s reflected in the rubato interludes in the otherwise spring-loaded Milonga Por la Ausencia, a conflicted look back at her home turf.

The album’s title track is an emotive nocturne, a tale of escape and return set to Bejerano’s gorgeously impressionistic piano, with terse bass and spare, moody sax trailing behind. Amed’s plaintive chromatics and Bejerano’s alternately resonant and scrambling piano rise agitatedly, only to back away for Small’s allusively ominous solo in El Regreso, the album’s big showstopper.

Amed lends her voice to two iconic Ginastera piano works, Danza de la Moza Donosa and Danza del Viejo Boyero. The former has a whole new level of mystery in what’s essentially a ragtime tune: exactly what happens to the dancer, we don’t know, but the end doesn’t look good. The latter is an exuberantly humorous exploration of indigenous Argentine beats, fueled by Zuniga’s polyrhythms.

Goodbye Rose Street, a rainy-night farewell to Amed’s old Buenos Aires neighborhood, shifts between glistening rubato and a bit of a stately, haunting ballad. The simply titled Amor, built around an ominously circling, hypnotic Bejerano riff and variations, rises to a towering angst capped off by Jago’s crashing guitar, a portrait of hope against hope. A rough translation from Amed’s more poetic Spanish:

Like the delicate sparkle of the moon
That draws the shadows of the rain
Like the wind that brings a seed
Hidden in storms of ash

She winds up the album with a spare departure ballad, Winter, just her gauzy vocals over Bejerano’s precise, considered, bittersweet neoromanticisms. It asks more questions than it answers: definitely a song, and an album, for our time.

May 18, 2021 - Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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