Oscar Penas: From Now On (2011)
The music on From Now On is modern jazz marinated in the seductive flavors of Spain and South America. Guitarist Oscar Peñas' path lead him from Barcelona to Brooklyn, NY, and this geographic duality is ever-present in the intriguing blend of music that's presented on this, his debut for BJU records.
While Iberian-influenced guitar lines often set the stage and thread their way through the music, this record goes well-beyond any single style or influence. Peñas' writing and playing, along with the versatility of the musicians on this date, has a lot to do with the broad geographical arc that the guitarist is able to traverse during this eight song program. The journey begins with "Continuum," which is characterized by a Mediterranean mood and dark hues, but the band is only there for a short stay before they depart for Brazil. Drummer Richie Barshay picks up a pandeiroa more mature, Brazilian relative of the tambourinefor "Choro n.1 (Guinga)," and every band member gets some room to spread their wings before it's time to move on again. Gil Goldstein joins the band for a detour into Argentina, bringing his accordion into the mix on the title track, and the virtual globe-trotting continues.
While each band member has their passport stamped in each one of the stops along the way, they never completely assimilate to the way of life in these countries. Instead, they put their own Big Apple imprints on these destinations abroad. Saxophonist Dan Blake isn't afraid to deliver the occasional yelp or bellow during a heated musical moment ("Continuum"), but he can also work in tandem with Peñas on the pure-bred Brazilian music ("Choro n.1 (Guinga)" and "Choro n.2 (Corpo)"). While Blake wields his tenor for the majority of the album, he proves to have a pleasing soprano sound that's personal, yet universally appealing ("Encuentro").
Virtuoso six-string electric bassist Moto Fukushima's playing is a study in contrasts. As a team player, Fukushima delivers sensitive lines that anchor the band and snake their way through the depths of these songs, but his solo work is something entirely different. When Fukushima is given room to roam, his chops come to the fore, and it's hard not to be impressed by his fluid lines. Barshay's playing, perhaps more than anybody else on the album, reflects the varied nature of this music. The drummer is capable of delivering hypersensitive cymbal and snare grooves that hide in the mist and shadows, but he moves from background to foreground when the music calls for a firmer presence.
It's difficult to separate Peñas the performer from Peñas the composer, due to the fact that his music lives and breathes through his entrancing guitar work, but they need not be graded on different scales. On both accounts, Oscar Peñas' proves to be a master artist who paints with mood and melody in equal quantities. From Now On is a veritable feast of delicious, Spanish-tinged delicacies served by a guitarist and composer deserving greater attention.
Track Listing: Continuum; Choro n.1 (Guinga); From Now On; Samuel Smith; Encuentro; Choro n.2 (Corpo); Julia; Adeu.
Personnel: Oscar Peñas: nylon string guitar, electirc guitar (1, 8); Dan Blake: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone (5); Moto Fukushima: six string electric bass; Richie Barshay: drums, percussion, pandeiro (2); Gil Goldstein: accordion (3, 7); piano (4); Franco Pinna: bomba leduero (3).