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Samuel Torres: Alegria

Dan Bilawsky By

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After delivering a politically-pointed statement in the form of Forced Displacement (Zoho Music, 2015), Colombian percussionist Samuel Torres most certainly could've doubled-down in that direction. There's no shortage of political turmoil across the globe these days, so that move would've been completely understandable. But, as Torres clearly understands, there's something to be said for the power of going the other way. Opting to look on the sunny side here by tapping into feelings of "joy" and "happiness," as literally laid out in the album title translation, he reminds us that the easiest way to push away the darkness is to simply let the light shine in.

With a playlist containing eight vibrant originals that lean on the leader's percolating percussion work and the many strengths of his high-end band, there's nothing here to bring anybody down. It's high times right from the start, as "Salsa, Jazz Y Choke," a feisty Afro-Colombian feast working the Salsa Choke style, cooks. With tight ensemble work and powerful solos from trombonist Marshall Gilkes, pianist Luis Perdomo and Torres himself (on congas), there's little left to wonder about what this collective force is capable of achieving. The follow-up—"The Strength to Love," a funkier find that works two different motifs into a single tapestry—takes name and direction from Martin Luther King's message. This time, Perdomo paints on Rhodes, Joel Frahm's tenor takes no prisoners, and Torres does his talking through the talking drum.

The material that fills out the program displays the vastness of Torres' vision as a composer while still remaining fixed on the idea of walking upbeat avenues. "Barretto Power"—a boogaloo dedicated to percussionist Ray Barretto—juxtaposes dark harmonic elements against a bright big picture while leaving room for bassist Ruben Rodriguez, baritone saxophonist Ivan Renta and drummer Pablo Bencid to shine. "Preludio a un Abrazo," opening on Perdomo's musing piano and some airy thoughts, streams along on a Colombian bullerengue carriage that supports beautiful excursions from trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and saxophonist Will Vinson. The hypnotic "Little Grasshopper" smartly interweaves lines while putting Renta's flute and the leader's kalimba out front. And the sensitive "Bolero Para Raquel," dedicated to Torres' wife, gives Frahm a chance to court romance with his horn.

The final offerings in the set—the perky-turned-passionate, Cumbia-cured title track and the Afro-Cuban "Anga," dedicated to conguero Miguel "Anga" Díaz—close things as they started, with heat and heart firing the band's furnace. Alegria is all smiles, from beginning to end, and that's a beautiful thing to observe. Malcontents take note: there's no great downside to looking up.

Track Listing: Salsa, Jazz Y Choke; The Strength to love; Barretto Power; Preuldio a un Abrazo; Little Grasshopper; Bolero Para Raquel; Alegria; Anga.

Personnel: Michael Rodriguez: trumpet, flugelhorn; Alex Norris: trumpet, flugelhorn; Marshall Gilkes: trombone; Will Vinson: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Joel Frahm: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Ivan Renta: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, flute; Luis Perdomo: piano, Fender Rhodes; Ruben Rodriguez: bass; Samuel Torres: congas, bongo, kalimba, log drum, cajon, maracas, Llanera, djembes, talking drum, guiro, timbal, tambourine, clave, shekere, and effects.

Title: Alegria | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Self Produced

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