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Album Review

Santi Debriano: Flash of the Spirit


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Santi Debriano: Flash of the Spirit
Bassist/composer Santi Debriano has been prominently on the scene since the late seventies, when he worked for several years with saxophonist Archie Shepp. Born in Panama, and raised in Brooklyn from a very young age, his life was integrated with the many crosscurrents of jazz music in the Americas. He worked prominently with Sam Rivers in Paris for a few years, before heading back to New York to perform with the likes of Pharoah Sanders, Sonny Fortune, Larry Coryell, Freddie Hubbard, and Chucho Valdes.

As an ethnomusicology graduate student, Debriano read Farris Thompson's "Flash of the Spirit," sparking an interest exploring African traditions and customs retained by modern Black cultures throughout the Americas. With his new release, Flash of the Spirit (Truth Revolution, 2020), he expresses his ties to multiple artistic traditions at once with a recording that carries a personal creative pulse that embraces his journey from the Black communities of Panama to his current residence on Staten Island.

The wide lens through which Debriano views jazz music is a commonality he shares with the congregants of this session. Pianist Bill O'Connell has long straddled the Latin and post bop worlds, as has rhythm section mates Tommy Campbell and Francisco Mela. Brazilian percussionist Valtinho Anastacio adds a percussive undercurrent that seems to strike the match in this session.

But from the downbeat of the opener, Debriano's "Awesome Blues," the frontline of the band is what comes across as fresh, different, and the lightning to counterbalance the thunder of the rhythm section. A hard driving neo-bop tune, alto saxophonist Justin Robinson introduces himself to the listener with his flawless facility, distinctive tonality, and in this case, seething relentlessness. Flutist Andrea Brachfeld is full force out of the gate as well, with her expansive tone and ardent physicality. Another veteran of diverse forms, Brachfeld is a constant highlight throughout the outing's ten tracks.

Debriano's "Funky New Dorp" is a shuffle with a funk edge to it. The contrast between the frontline solos is an ear opener, with Robinson's turn folding into impossible double time, all the while maintaining his usual elegant cool. Brachfeld's offering begins with long, breathy tones that slowly build dynamically. The way the two work together throughout the session is a delightful counterpoint.

Perhaps the highlight of the album is the interpretation of Ornette Coleman's classic early piece, "Humpty Dumpty." After collectively stating the theme, the piece breaks off into free jazz moments with the participants playing free within form, individually and collectively. Debriano's ability to divide time truly breaks the piece open for his bandmates, and then leads them back to Coleman's most memorable melody.

The drive and energy of Debriano's bass playing is the fuel that fires this ensemble, whether playing with bow in duo with McConnell on the nostalgic "Beneath the Surface," or leading behind the bass for his blues in six, "Ripty Boom." In the middle of this top shelf collection of musicians, it is his playing that is clearly directing the flow. At first glance, one might believe that the eclectic bassist may be trying to take on too wide a musical swath on a single recording. Remarkably, he achieves a musical oneness, music that sounds natural to his personal musical and cultural insights. It is as if all the sonic tributaries his life has revealed to him, have finally joined to flow into the infinite sea of sound.

Track Listing

Awesome Blues; Funky New Dorp; For Heaven's Sake; Beneath the Surface; Toujours Petits; Humpty Dumpty; Natural Causes; Ripty Boom; La Mesha; Voyage.


Album information

Title: Flash of the Spirit | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Truth Revolution Records

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