Normally when I review an album that's mostly devoid of a session drummer, I get on a soapbox about how bland the programming is or how the music would be better if acoustic drums and cymbals were used instead of synths. Not so with Nestor Torres' Dances, Prayers & Meditations for Peace. It's not that Carlo Pennisi's programming, cleverly labeled as "production, breaks any molds. The difference here is that Torres' songwriting and performance are interesting enough to overcome the absence of a drummer or bassist on most of the thirteen tracks.
A native of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, the Latin Grammy Award-winning flutist began his solo career in 1989. His earlier gigs included Latin dance clubs, where he worked with Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri and Tito Puente, among others. Throughout the 1990s, Torres performed or recorded with such talents as Gloria Estefan, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Torres won a Latin Grammy in 2001 for This Side of Paradise (Shanachie), but the award was bittersweet, coming after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Dances, Prayers & Meditations for Peace was influenced by 9/11, the war in Iraq and other conflicts in the world.
Perhaps that is why it's so easy to ignore the technical shortcomings of Pennisi's programming. Torres' flutes and songwriting give this album an exceptional human touch that's often overpowered by technology in modern music. It starts with the opening track, "Human Revolution, an upbeat groove in which Torres delivers a State of the World address.
"Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law is the most expressive selection. The nearly ten-minute track opens with Torres soloing over a vocal chant. Brazilian voices provide the harmonizing backup. Pennisi's production adequately covers bass, percussion, strings and other instruments, while Torres' flute delivers a symphonic message about spirituality. The song goes through several rhythmic and emotional changes before returning to a solitary Torres at the end.
Aided by Ed Calle on saxophone, Torres turns playful with "Creole Dreams, a nod to the people of southern Louisiana. Another strong selection is "Dance Because You Can, a song whose self-explanatory message carries as much weight as Torres' performance. Other notable tracks are "Medicine Man and "St. Peter's Prayer.
Despite shortcomings in the background instruments, Dances, Prayers & Meditations for Peace is a solid collection of songs. The rhythms are catchy and often of the cookie-cutter variety. There's an element of unnecessary familiarity on many of the tracks. But Torres stands out from start to finish, and he makes it all worthwhile.
Human Revolution; Let There Be Light; Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law; Peace With Myself; David
Nestor Torres: flutes; Carlo Pennisi: production, nylon string guitar and electric guitar; Furat Qaddouri: qanoun; Richard Bravo: percussion; Jose Gregorio: percussion; Manolito Rodriguez: percussion; Carlo Magno Araya: drums; Agostino Marangolo: drums; J-Funk: vocal (2); Brazilian Voices: vocals (3); Ed Calle: alto sax; Julio Reyes: piano; Silvano Monasterios: acoustic piano; Beatriz Malnic: vocals (11); Jose Velasquez: bass; Omar Hernandez: bass; Johnny Mendoza: violin; Hector Miranda: quatro.
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