Guitarist Juan Dhas' debut recording, Embracing Clarity
(Self Produced, 2014), was released just before he graduated Summa Cum Laude from Berklee College of Music. Returning to Bogotá in 2016, the then twenty- two-year-old immersed himself in the Colombian jazz scene. Just the following year, he obtained the post of Coordinator of the Guitar Department at EMMAT, a feeder school for Berklee. It's been an impressive trajectory, one that continues with Catharsis
, which sees Dhas move from the quartet setting of his first recording to a more intimate, trio format.
The hallmarks of that debut recordingintricate arrangements, Dhas' clean-toned, melodically tilted virtuosity and a certain unrelenting intensityare all present here. Upright bassist Kike Harker
and drummer Ramón Berrocal are afforded plenty of room by the leader, with the former's cantering rhythms and the latter's singularly inventive lines providing a dynamic platform for Dhas from which to launch himself. The guitarist's solo on the opener, "Reverie," lays down an impressive marker, his fluidity matched by faultless articulation. Even in his most impassioned improvisational forays, however, as on "Deeper Spirit," Dhas always seems to be chasing melody rather than fireworks.
In that respect there is a passing resemblance to Pat Metheny
in Dhas' approach, also hinted at in the pastoral lyricism that he trades in, notably on the understated intros to the balladic "Alma" and the more expansive "Showers Over A Silent Lake," and in his feathery comping in general. That said, his sound is very much his own and his soloing most impressive. Pick any one solo at random from the nine tracks and Dhas' improvisational flare, his deep well of ideas, coupled with a pronounced melodic sensibility, will all be abundantly clear.
Dhas' control at speed, notably on the bristling set-closer, "Sleep," is more typical of a classical virtuoso, but arguably his most seductive playing comes at more moderate tempi; on "Conscience" and "Beacons" the guitarist builds his solos steadily and surely, his emotional investmentnot without adventurekeenly felt. A more sensitive side to the guitarist is heard on the unaccompanied ballad "If Only I Could." This softly scintillating solo performance is a timely break from the album's almost constant intertwining of three voices.
Guest drummer Jacobo Álvarez
brings a slightly different rhythmic energy to "Story of Night," while Berrocal's brushes color "Beacons." Otherwise, dynamic variation is largely limited to the weight of Dhas' touch and the speed of his fingers, which makes for a slightly repetitive sonic soundscape overall. That shouldn't detract too much, however, from what is essentially a rewarding recording.
An exciting and emotionally engaging guitarist, Dhas is also a sensitive composer. Catharsis
may only be his second recording as leader to date, but the signs already point to a bright future. A name to watch out for.