Ricardo Gallo Cuarteto
Udimbres y Maranas
The Ricardo Gallo Cuarteto's sound is complexand not just because the Cuarteto is born out of a marriage between avant-garde jazz and Colombian rhythms. What adds further depth to their music is the emotional density that shows itself almost immediately on Urdimbres y Maranas...
The opening "Tablitas" starts with a bass growl that climbs through the registers and exhausts itself at the top of the neck, igniting a small ensemble explosion that launches the band into its first chart. The theme is a sad one, broken by a bridge that sounds lighter, even hopeful. But the mood quickly collapses under splashing cymbals and a frantic piano scurry that segues back into the plodding main theme. A particularly dark and dissonant cadence ends the head to bring in Juan Manuel Toro's bass solo.
And all of these events and mood changes happen within the first minute and a half of the album.
The disc, which hangs together coherently as a whole, runs the gamut from sad, to melancholic, to frantic, to even hopeful. If such an emotional course seems to veer towards the darker side of things, it fits the stated goal of the band to, as the liner notes put it, "glimpse the reconstruction of a reality that we painfully see shattered everyday."
The emotional resonance invoked by the music is striking. So too is the structural and formal sophistication of the young keyboard player Ricardo Gallo's music. Gallo's native Colombia manifests itself time and again in the musicbut indigenous rhythms are just one of the roots. Indeed, Gallo's work requires no translation. His hybrid is a symptom of the globalizing of the trajectory of jazz. Put another way, he makes us familiar with Colombian idioms through the common language of jazz.
If "Tablitas" is merely sad, the second track, "La Inundacian," borders on the desperate. A flood of discordant motifs and an onslaught of percussion nod to the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Meanwhile, Gallo's thickly percussive attack invokes the avatar of pianist Andrew Hill.
Indeed, it is the avant-garde that is the second tradition that Gallo's Cuarteto pays homage to. "La Inundacian," like all the other pieces, is slippery and complex, easing through different idioms, and charting new destinations for old trajectories. But, a couple of minutes into the track, the band draws itself back in from the ether of free musical interchange. Again an almost heartbreakingly gloomy riff played perfectly in sync with rolling hand drums takes over.
Finally, this despondent motif finds some release as it breaks up into the free interplay between the bass and percussionist Juan David Castano. The blending of folk motifs, advanced jazz vocabulary, and indigenous rhythms propels this music forward into territories that are just beginning to be charted in contemporary chamber music.
The music stands on its own merits that transcend its mere novelty as a transcultural production blending Gallo's experiences in Colombia and New York. The melancholic airs that draw inspiration from jazz and folkand float above the simmering carnivalesque drum and bass rhythmsare the flowers that have bloomed forth from a heady blend. These simple melodies contrast pleasingly with the percussion-heavy avant-garde inclinations of the album's unscripted moments.
"Esto Es un Paseo" follows the storm that is "La Inundacian." On this track Gallo has chosen a Fender Rhodes to accompany him on his walk. This is the first track where the sturdy percussive patter that is so essential to the sound really becomes pronounced. As Gallo takes his walk, the caja vallenata, played by Castano, follows closely on his heels. Rim shots, courtesy of drummer Jorge Sepulveda, add accents and direction. Actually, the Rhodes is suited to Gallo's long, twisting lines, montunos, and enthusiastic chordal refrains.
After "Paseo" the band launches into "Artificio"a break in the mood of the album. This composition, while again not free of melancholy, has something more of the romantic or even nostalgic feel about it.
"Remolino Humano," the next track, returns to the original tone of the album and even manages to sound like the human flood has decided to march in lockstepthanks in no small part to Castano's tambor alegre. On "Remolino," probably more than any of the other tracks, the rhythm invokes carnaval. The atmosphere continues even as Toro takes an exciting acoustic bass solo.
"Ventanas" is more neutral, with Gallo again taking up the Fender Rhodes to bring in the band with a serial motif. Interestingly, the motif that Gallo uses to bring in the band sounds like it could have come directly out of the ECM catalog or the Danish Real Bookparticularly interesting because Castano here plays agogos (the name is taken from hand-held West African bells, cast-iron precursors of the "cowbell"), which lend the composition something of a tropical air.
A particular highlight of this track is the intense energy generated between Gallo, Castano and Toro as they comp behind a solo by Sepulveda before going back to that Scandinavian theme by way of Colombia. "El Trueque," which follows, veers closer to mainstream jazz and is a staple of Gallo's live shows in New York.
Toro's "Contradicciones de una Serpiente Inversa" is the only piece not written by Gallo, and features a bass and piano vamp that eventually reaches into outer space. "La Distritofobia," which closes the albums, finds Toro switching to electric bass to play a particularly sinister sounding vamp, just slightly ahead of Sepulveda's beat to anchor Gallo and Castano's joint explorations.
The album closes with more menacing lockstep behind the drums as Gallo and Castano fall into line and then play together to accompany a rather free bass soloand then the band slowly peters out. Just as the album opened with a growl, it closes with a whimper.
The percussiveness and hybridity of the music are memorable; likewise the coherence of the band and their agile interaction across treacherous musical divides. But neither novelty nor musical ability should obscure the other great strength of the band: Gallo's deeply melodic compositions. The lyricism of his charts throws into sharp focus the otherwise overwhelmingly rhythmic components of the band by somehow standing apart from them. The rhythmic element of the band's sound is extremely important: the percussionist is featured on a variety of sounds on a variety of instruments indigenous to Colombia; the piano and bass tend to move together across sharp splinters of sounds, rhythmic cracks, and rim shots generated by Castano and Sepulveda in tandem.
But above the din is something sweet and lilting, melancholic and at the same time hopeful. This is the sound of rhythm and melodytwo things seemingly at such great odds but always inseparable. The genius of Ricardo Gallo's Cuarteto is its ability to reconcile the two.
Tracks: Tablitas; La Inundacian; Esto es un Paseo; Artificio; Remolino Humano; Ventanas; El Trueque; Contradicciones de una Serpiente Inversa; La Distritofobia
Personnel: Ricardo Gallo: piano and Rhodes; Jorge Sepulveda: drums; Juan Manuel Toro: bass; Juan David Castano: percussion.