This is not the usual large ensemble jazz recording. Instead of having instrumental groups play against each other, this music moves largely as a massed force with only sparing solo statements. It carries the gravity and weight of classical music and mixes in the harmonies and colors of jazz composers like Gil Evans and Kenny Wheeler with occasional blasts of other musical forms like rock and tango. It is the work of Rodrigo Faina, a composer born and raised in Argentina who now lives in the Netherlands. His pieces here are inspired by the writings of Argentine authors Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar, carrying the thoughtful and mysterious flavor of their work and even utilizing spoken passages from their writings.
The music is performed by Change Ensemble, an unit of twenty-three musicians with various backgrounds in classical ,jazz and pop that specializes in performing new, genreless music. They bring out the subtle layers of beauty in these pieces. "At Night" has vocalist Fanny Alofs expressively speaking Cortozar's text, "Spirit of the Bear," over repeated piano chords and a plush background hum that eventually gives way to a melodic flugelhorn solo by Gerard Kleijn, that floats along as the music slowly rises and turns in a warm, enveloping effect. "Deep, Dark and Blue" sweeps upwards in more of a slow jazz progression. Alofs' wordless voice leads a sensuous wave of horns while Marcos Baggiani's drum work deliberately paces and guides the music's path. The same languid air permeates "An Installment of Time" which features slow tinkling percussion as the reeds fan out like a wheezing accordion and Alofs adds an element of quietly melodious spoken word.
The mood shifts dramatically on "A Room Full Of People." The ensemble surges heavier and louder and the drums become violent. This leads to the ensemble's long, menacing chords doing battle with guitarist Guillermo Celano as he carves out twisted heavy rock sounds in the Terje Rypdal manner, To the other extreme, "If I'm To Live" could almost serve as part of a religious service. The brass and woodwinds breathe together in a full, reedy sound that resembles a pipe organ as Alofs solemnly sings like a classical soprano.
The Change Ensemble's interpretations are an important part in conveying the depth and awe of Faina's work, but a bonus track shows how his music works in a more conventional jazz orchestra setting. This is "Dreams" played by the Metropole Orkest. It is a tense, noirish track with stabbing brass and shivering strings that sounds like the Stan Kenton Orchestra doing a crime movie soundtrack. It goes on to incorporate both giddy rock guitar and soothing layers of strings all supported by a relentlessly running bass line. It shows another aspect of Fania's gift for creating vivid atmospheres.
This entire project shows off a singular compositional voice. Rodrigo Fania draws from multiple genres to create music of grandeur and beauty that effectively blends in elements of unease and uncertainty. It is a jazz-classical hybrid of rare richness and one of the most compelling releases of the year so far.
Opening; Deep, Dark and Blue; At Night; A Room Full Of People; An Installment Of Time; If I'm To Live;
Dark and Blue (alternate version); Dreams (bonus track).
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