On their two previous releases, 1 de Mayo
(2010) and Rainbows for Ramon
(2012), The Black Butterflies built soulful, searching jazz with dense, kinetic layers of Latin and African rhythms. Using both group improvisation and individual statements, they freely, yet unhurriedly, explored the boundaries of their music, often lingering in spots to let the tonal palette shift organically. With Luisa
they've tightened their focus, strongly favoring tango and other Argentinian folk forms, while keeping solos brief and holding most tracks to the five-minute mark. Notably, the Argentinian focus brings the late master Gato Barbieri
into the fold (or was it the other way around?) to play on three numbers that would prove to be the final studio recordings of his career.
Yet the central, overarching focus of the album seems to be family, a concept that easily spreads to encompass the band's musical interests, from nods to the immediate family of leader and saxophonist Mercedes Figueras
to Barbieri and tango legends Astor Piazzolla and Carlos Gardel to the broader families of tango and jazz, and music and Latin culture more generally. And, of course, to the very particular family that is this or any other band. Percussionist and saxophonist Tony Larokko
kicks things off by invoking the lines of the old folk song "Hambone" ("Hambone, hambone, where you been? / Around the world, I'm goin' again"), setting in motion the album's circular route: the "Hambone" lines lead into the Piazzolla classic "Adios Nonino" and 30 minutes later the album comes back around to Gardel's "Por una Cabeza." In between are five emotionally vibrant pieces that sway and kick under Argentina's musical thrall.
Figueras and Barbieri prove to be fine dance partners. On the Figueras compositions "Gato's Hat" and "Brother Nacho, Sister Lola," and Ramon Sixto Rios' "Merceditas," the alto and tenor melodies twine in fluid passion, then release to flare individual, high-register fuel. The contrapuntal interplay works especially well on "Gato's Hat," with the duo continuing to twirl as the music fades away. Vibraphonist Karl Berger
, reunited here with Barbieri 50 years after their days in Don Cherry
's employ (another familial connection), turns in the standout solo of the set with his rapid, finely articulated spin through McCoy Tyner
's "Love Samba." The album also includes an intriguing Figueras lullaby ("Luisa") that trades in comfort and contradiction, and is sung by the composer in a curiously low, breathy register that adds something of a spectral presence to the song.
Fans of The Black Butterflies' first two releases may miss the wider scope of world music influences that informed those recordings, but the tight, sensualyet free-spiriteddance the group commits to on Luisa
should bring plenty of pleasure to anyone enamored of Barbieri's experimental fusions of Latin and avant-garde jazz.
Hambone/Adios Nonino; Gato’s Hat; Luisa; Brother Nacho, Sister Lola; Merceditas;
Love Samba; Por una Cabeza.
Mercedes Figueras: alto saxophone, vocals; Karl Berger: vibes, melodica; Kenny
Wollesen: drums, percussion; Bopa "King" Carre: bongos, percussion; Fred
Berryhill: djembe, percussion, body percussion; Tony Larokko: percussion, soprano
saxophone, vocals; Rick Bottari: piano; Nick Gianni: bass; Gato Barbieri: tenor