There is no doubt that pianist and composer Fabian Almazan's Alcanza is a unique and boldly inventive work. On it Almazan deftly fuses the tonality and stylings of a string quartet with those of his piano trio. He also adorns this captivating composition with the scintillating romanticism of guitarist and vocalist Camila Meza's hypnotic singing. The collective sound that results is more than just a sum of coexisting parts, instead it is an elegant and delightful musical amalgam.
By seamlessly melding two disparate but synergistic groups Almazan creates a variety of intriguing moods and ambiences. For instance, "III. Verla" is a melancholic and pastoral movement that the string quartet performs with a haunting emotive impact. Elsewhere the entire ensemble participates in the symphonic and expectant "VI. Cazador Antiguo." Drummer Henry Cole's percussive vamps drive the tune and Meza's wordless vocals add a chillingly ethereal edge.
Each segment of the suite is built on repetitive motifs that are intricately interwoven to make mesmerizing and exquisite harmonic structures. "I. Vida Absurda y Bella" has a Latin flavor with cascading piano lines and Meza's mellifluous refrains. The rest of the band adds a cinematic touch to the song. Equally dramatic are the Almazan's fluent, sometimes percussive chords that wistful violins envelope and percolating rhythms buoy on the expansive "VII. Pater Familias." There is, however, a certain organic vibrancy and spontaneous bounce missing from most of the record. A few exceptions are brief solo spots for Almazan, Cole and bassist Linda May Han Oh each exhibiting their characteristic instrumental virtuosity and the latter her signature eloquent lyricism.
Alcanza is a singularly auspicious utilization of strings in the jazz idiom. It certainly is more successful than most similar attempts in the past few years including Almazan's 2014 release Rhizozome (Artist Share). The current album is so formalistic, however, that form not only supersedes substance but it becomes the disc's focus. Although, to borrow a quote from the funniest sitcom in TV history "Not that there is anything wrong with that."
I. Vida Absurda y Bella; II. Marea Baja; III. Verla; La Voz de un Piano; IV. Mas; V. Tribu T9; La Voz de un Bajo; VI. Cazador Antiguo; La Voz de la Percusión; VII. Pater Familias; VIII. Este Lugar; IX. Marea Alta.
Fabian Almazan: piano, electronics; Camila Meza: voice and guitar; Linda Oh: bass; Henry Cole: drums; Megan Gould: violin I; Tomoko Omura: violin II; Karen Waltuch: viola; Noah Hoffeld: cello.