In putting together his fourth album, guitarist Oscar Penas looked to composers he connects with, songs that speak to him, and originals that fit comfortably with the rest. That's the concept here, plain and simple, and the end result is a thirty-eight minute beauty that's alluring and completely accessible.
Two different rhythm sections and three guests come and go during these eight tracks, but Penas' presence ties everything together. The first three numbersa cheery choro featuring clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera, a take on "Rabo De Nube" that focuses in on Esperanza Spalding's supple vocals, and a solo guitar performance of "Skylark"illustrate this point. These songs have little-to-nothing in common with one another, but Penas' personality serves as a bonding agent, bringing them closer than imaginable.
Further explorations find Penas putting his stamp on flamenco music ("Paco"), tilting toward tango ("The Everyday Struggle"), using a baroque-style exercise as a leaping off point ("Etude No. 1"), and balancing the mournful with the serene ("Canco Numero 6"). On those first three occasions, violinist Sara Caswell proves indispensable. She brings a mixture of energy and grace to this material, upping the level of excitement and deepening the conversation all at once. On "Canco Numero 6" she's absent, but Gil Goldstein's accordion provides the needed finishing touches.
In this day and age, when a large chunk of the jazz community views conceptual rigor and the creation of high art as a moral imperative, it's a joyous thing to hear artists like Penas buck the trend; he simply plays what he enjoys.
Paquito's Choro; Rabo De Nube; Skylark; Paco; The Everyday Struggle; Etude No. 1;
Rain; Canco. Numero 6
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