How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Bassist Sammy Morales may call Puerto Rico his home, but he embraces the entire Latin Diaspora in his music. Born in the Bronx but relocating to San Juan, Morales creates compelling modern jazz built on a pan-Latin platform, ably erasing the boundary lines between Puerto Rico, Argentina, Spain, Brazil and Cuba on this, his longtime-coming debut.
Morales maintains an active playing career in Puerto Rico, but his work in education has kept him out of the spotlight. He puts his big ears to good use when working with various ensembles at the University of Puerto Rico and the InterAmerican University in San Juan, which also serve him well on this endeavor. Morales effortlessly merges styles, moods and colors, steering his quintet through his self-penned tales while orating with his bass and mind.
The blend of electric guitar, piano, electric bass, accordion and drums is fairly uncommon, but it's actually the players' personalities, not the instruments, that really define the sound of this group. Guitarist Gabriel Vicens
is a modernist through and through, but duende dwells in his heart and hands. Drummer Mario Pereira effortlessly shifts between different feels, brings his gentle, yet propulsive cymbal touch to bear on numerous occasions, and provides a musical heartbeat when necessary ("Las Preguntas"). Pianist Liza Micelli
proves to be the most extroverted personality of the bunch early on, but later investigates a more nuanced approach, delivering chops-heavy solos or gracefully tracing around the shapes in her path in understated fashion. Accordionist Ricky Martinez
and Nuevo Tango; he's his own man with the squeeze box.
Morales is both a solid and dependable traveling companion for the others and a seductive solo voice. He gets a warm-toned, middle-of-the-road sound out of his instrument, avoiding slapping antics and high-end hijinx that make so many electric bassists seem out of place in these types of settings. He may play electric bass, but he doesn't make a circus out of it.
The music can carry itself with a Brazilian air ("Las Preguntas"), move with "Caravan"-meets-Cuba modernity ("Rumbita") or soak in its own mellowness ("Pequeno Pintor"), but it's never firmly ensconced in any single place. Each of these songs carries multiple passports and touches on different experiences. Morales makes music that speaks with authority, but thrives on ingenuity. That's what SM Quinteto is all about.
Track Listing: Vals para Gaby; Las Preguntas; Pequeño Pintor; Rumbita; Ni bomba, Ni fuga, Ni ná; El Reposo; Soledad Imperfecta; Canto al Sur; Desamor.
Personnel: Sammy Morales: bass; Gabriel Vicéns: guitar; Liza Micelli: piano, keyboards; Mario Pereira: drums; Ricky Martinez: accordion, flute.