Jazz has come far in Ireland in the last decade or two, leaving behind the trad-jazz on a Sunday image for an altogether more contemporary scene. In part, this is due to the increasingly cosmopolitan face of the country's cities, and in no small measure to the influence of Dublin's Newpark Music Centre, the only educational institution in Ireland to offer jazz studies. Phisqa is a case in point; the quintet members hail from Peru, South Africa, Italy, Venezuela and Ireland, all bar one are graduates of NMC, and the music has a fresh, modern feel.
, Phisqa means five in Quechuaa Peruvian languageand reflects the collective input in the arrangements, and the equal weight of the individual contributions throughout. Calmet's compositions are fairly traditional in structure, a sort of hardish bop for the third millennium, but what sets Phisqa apart is the drummer's use of Peruvian rhythms. The South American influence isn't overt, in that Calmet uses almost none of the typical percussive instruments, cajon apart. It is, however, felt in the micro rhythms, and equally, when Calmet is in full flight as on the drum feature "Candela Azul," where there's carnival-esque vibrancy to his playing and the quintet sound.
Calmet and bassist Cormac O'Brien's rhythmic drive is central to the eight compositions but they're built equally upon strong melodic foundations. When saxophonist Chris Engel, guitarist Julien Colarossi, pianist Leopoldo Osio and O'Brien solo the emphasis is on melodic development. However, as Colarossi and Engel's fire on the dynamic opener "Muerdele el Diente" demonstrates, an accessible tune and passionate soloing are perfectly compatible. Strong riffs and singing unison lines are features of the music, along with a sense of the tunes evolving between contemplative plateaus and dramatic peaksnicely illustrated on "Nuna," which shares some of pianist Danilo Perez
On the catchy, almost chordless "U-Turn," the leitmotif is repeated by the accompanist beneath the soloist; Colarossi states the theme during O'Brien's flowing solo, who in turn picks up the melody as Leopoldo stretches out, shadowed closely by Calmeta dynamic presence. The bare bones structure of "A Cup of Life" provides a vehicle for Engel's charged soprano solo and a more restrained but elegant reply from Osio. The pianist's gentle intro sets the tone for the slightly wistful "Transition," a feature for O'Brien's deep, earthy lyricisma constant delight throughout the set.
"Adios Mariquita" hovers between melancholy and nostalgia, with Colarossi injecting a little bite in the set's only ballad. Calmet's charango (lute) brings Andean folk flavor to "Ayarachi," a Quecha music and dance, though the dancing soprano and drums are decidedly more upbeat than the somber Peruvian ritual music. Osio's fast ska motif leads into an extended solo, followed by Colarossi and Engelall three matching inhibition with tremendous technique in a thrilling send-off. Charango and soprano return in a delicate coda.
This consistently engaging debut highlights Calmet's writing, which embraces the individual and collective strengths. Cosmopolitan in make-up but with a unified vision, Phisqa is an exciting calling card from a young group full of promise.
Track Listing: Muerdele el Diente; U-Turn; A Cup of Life; Nuna; Transition; Candela Azul; Adios Mariquita; Ayarachi.