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Barcelona-born bassist Alexis Cuadrado has spent much time on both sides of the pond, as a sideman of Kurt Rosenwinkel and Bruce Barth; a student of Larry Grenadier and Francois Rabbath; and a teacher in New York, his current home. On Visual, his second outing as a leader (after 2001's Metro ), Cuadrado is joined by Kris Bauman (alto saxophone, clarinet), John Ellis (tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, bass clarinet), Steve Cardenas (guitar), and the Ferber twins, Mark and Alan (drums and trombone, respectively).
The sextet covers a wide stylistic palette, ranging from light funk ("Quick," "Black Tulip") to strangulated free skronk ("Mario's Pencil," which harks back to Ornette's Free Jazz, with its different take in each speaker) to the edge of mainstream ("Camperdown Elm").
The opener, "J Ride," is a bit of a conundrum. While unfolding with a promising, crafty highjacking of Coltrane's "My Favorite Things," the focus soon shifts to Ellis' soprano, which, like that of most post-Trane players of the instrument, veers toward the airy and featureless. It's got to be a tough horn to find your own voice on: so many soprano players claim to be inspired by Trane or Pharoah Sanders but end up sounding more like Kenny You-Know-Who. While as a sopranoist Ellis clearly does not belong in the company of the G-man, it's still his warm alto work (see "Camperdown Elm") that's his stronger suit.
Visual's true standout track is "El Gran Profeta," named for a sculpture by Pablo Gargallo. With a merciless, punk-like descending riff and wild, loose swing, the tune boasts some wonderfully aggressive blowing by Ellis and Bauman, along with Cardenas' tough, distorted solo and comping (a listen to Panorama, the guitarist's own set on FSNT, is my next stop, posthaste). Also memorable is the lovely version of Victor Jara's "Te Recuerdo Amanda," an arrangement for five basses. Overdubbed track by track in Cuadrado's living room, the piece is poignant and lonely, the leader's heartrending, bowed notes drifting forlornly over his deep, plucked tones.
While there are certainly enough brilliant episodes herein to recommend a spin, what Visual lacks is cohesiveness. Cuadrado is obviously well versed in several styles and takes his inspiration from not only his mentors, but from his bandmates, too (he's played both in Ellis' and Alan Ferber's groups). At this early stage of his journey as a leader, however, Cuadrado is still in the process of hammering out a signature sound.
Track Listing: 1- J Ride (Cuadrado) 6:42 / 2- Black Tulip (Cuadrado) 8:11 / 3- El Perro (Cuadrado) 7:10 / 4- El Gran Profeta (Cuadrado) 7:31 / 5- Te Recuerdo Amanda (Jara/arr. Cuadarao) 5:00 / 6- Camperdown Elm (Cuadrado) 7:46 / 7- Mario's Pencil (Cuadrado) 7:41 / 8- Quick (Cuadrado) 5:28.
Personnel: Alexis Cuadrado - bass, leader / Kris Bauman - alto saxpohone, clarinet / John Ellis - tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, flute / Alan Ferber - trombone / Steve Cardenas - guitar / Mark Ferber - drums.
The vocalist/guitarist of New York City blues-punk noisemakers The Chrome Cranks, Peter Aaron possesses an unceasing, obsessive thirst for musical knowledge. He now lives happily in upstate New York with his cats, Penelope and Kizzy.