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Mario Castro: Estrella De Mar

James Nadal By

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Though the concept of augmenting a jazz quintet with a string section may not be anything new, the direction saxophonist Mario Castro takes this combination on Estrella De Mar is quite novel in its sophisticated, yet hip, arranging. The strings are not utilized merely as accompaniment, but are engaged in the front line of harmony and solo interchanges.

The record opens with the dramatic "Pilares," where rising crescendos build up to fellow tenor man David Sanchez joining in on a tremendous duet with Castro.These two horn men are shining representatives of the immense talent coming out of Puerto Rico. Spotlight is also on the energetic drumming of Jonathan Pinson, an essential player in the quintet who pushes the envelope throughout the record.

"Shmerls," is pulled along by the string section, though there is room for trumpeter Josh Shpak, and bassist Tamir Shmerling to offer splashes of spatial soloing. Casey Benjamin is featured on the vocoder, which stretches the piece into a futuristic course softened vividly by the strings in the finale. "Estrella De Mar," is carried by a rhythmic breeze of samba supplied by the light vocalizing textures of J. Hoard and Jaime Woods.

The outstanding string arrangements of Meritxell Nedderman are brought to light in "Resentment," where an additional three string players are layered in. She also does the arranging on five other songs, and according to Castro, her work was an essential part of the production.Castro has proven to be a democratic soloist, bandleader and composer, leaving plenty of room for the others to contribute and interplay.

Soprano master Dave Liebman is presented on "Entrapment," and it should come as no surprise that his inclusion adds an ethereal presence to the floating sensation of the song, while pianist Kyumin Shim plays with the proper fragility that is required. The strings continue to set the mood on "I Miss You," and "Storyteller," where they weave throughout the different time signatures and play off the sax and trumpet lines. At times they deliver a ferocious counter attack within the synchronization and still come out balanced in the end. The record ends with the appropriate "Goodbye," an easy going farewell which is performed with just the quintet.

The lines which define jazz compositions and performance have long blurred. This production was quite an ambitious project for Castro, with astounding results. He judiciously blended influences as abstract as Debussy, Dexter Gordon, Latin rhythms and beyond -and brought in the proper musicians -to achieve this amalgamation. With Estrella De Mar , Mario Castro is in the forefront of those artists willing to take chances to push this music forward.

Track Listing: Pilares; Shmerls; Interlude: Cry Of A Gypsy; Estrella De Mar; Resentment; Coffee; Interlude: Opposite Direction, Part II; Michelangelo; Entrapment; I Miss You; Storyteller; Goodbye.

Personnel: Mario Castro: tenor saxophone; Josh Shpak: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tamir Shmerling: upright bass; Kyumin Shim: piano; Jonathan Pinson: drums; Kailey Shaffer: violin; Fung Chern Hwei: violin; Allyson Clare: viola; Brian Sanders: cello; Tania Mesa: violin (1, 3, 5); Anna Stromer: viola (1, 3, 5); Ro Rowan: cello (1, 3, 5); Gabo Lugo: congas, chimes, udu (1, 4); Paulo Stagnaro: iyá, itotele, okonkolo, djembe (1, 4); Casey Benjamin: vocoder (2); J. Hoard: vocal (4); Jaime Woods: vocal (4); Emily Elbert: vocals, guitar (8); Dave Liebman: soprano saxophone (9).

Title: Estrella De Mar | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Interrobang Records

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