Modern jazz is a virtuoso's art. More often than not, it's the capacity of the soloist that we listen for. And even though jazz is fundamentally about communication and the assemblage of sounds that forms a band, listeners get caught up in what the single voice can accomplish, whether it's a sax, guitar, or vibraphone.
As a result, it's sometimes a true pleasure to fall into a lush fabric of sounds. It's what Duke Ellington does for some. Although he writes in a very different vein than. Ellington, Felipe Salles also supplies this same form of aural enjoyment on South American Suite.
Originally from Sao Paulo, saxophonist Salles has been based in New York for nearly fifteen years, gigging up and down the East Coast with his quintet. Having accrued a team of like-minded musicians over the last decade, he now puts them to work in a rich environment, evoking the breadth of music that emanates from Brazil. South American Suite derives its strength from the quality of this ensemble sound, and the way the octet plays into Salles' particular style of composition.
But that needn't suggest the players are not fully expressive. They're are as competent in their own right as they are familiar with Salles' musical inclinations. When Jacam Manricks is on flute, he fills the upper echelons of the band's sound with an almost classical grace. Joel Yennior's trombone brings both support and fluidity to the harmonies, and one can hear the influence of his work with Boston's Either/Orchestra in this ensemble.
When examined individually these musicians entertain, but the blend is even more exquisiteas in the opening three-part counterpoint on "Unborn Choro." Salles has acknowledged that one of his greatest joys in composing and arranging this material this is the opportunity to write with the particular voices of his musicians in mind. His aplomb with this kind of personalized orchestration is readily apparent.
However, while Salles' writing is playful and expansive, at times it can feel intractable. Using such a broad palette of colors inevitably means that they won't all be significant. There are moments on "Family Ties" and "Three Views" when the sudden shift between parts of the form are disorienting, without a sense of justification for the harmonic switchback.
Listening to the exciting blur of Brazilian rhythms and forms, Salles could easily be seen as the puppeteer, silently presiding over his musical playthings. But on the brief occasions when he makes his own voice heard exclusively, we remember that Salles is not only the mastermind here; he has equal gravitas as an authentic, original voice. His obligato at the close of "Crayon" testifies to that fact, as does the final track. Even beyond its titlea reference to three variations on the samba rhythm"Three Views" shows Salles as an unrelenting composer seeking out every sound that he can elicit. But the album closes with only Salles' tenor ringing out, now in the hoary, exhaustive voice of an artist who presents the full gamut of musical possibility.
Personnel: Felipe Salles: woodwinds, saxophones; Jacam Manricks, flutes, alto saxophone; Laura Arpiainen: violin; Joel Yennior: trombone; Nando Michelin: piano; Fernando Huergo: bass; Bertram Lehmann: drums; Rogerio Boccato: percussion.