Michael Eckroth Group: Plena


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Michael Eckroth Group: Plena
Michael Eckroth had clear goals in mind for this project—"to create music that was lyrical, modern, true to its Afro-Latin roots, but never purist in its approach"—and he's accomplished his mission with gusto. Through Plena, this Grammy-nominated pianist/composer delivers a program of original music that, while acknowledging folkloric traditions, doesn't buy into their formal strictures and structures. Instead, Eckroth deals in forward-thinking offshoots and branch realities that beautifully extend on—and past—those points.

Essentially working with two different groups, and adding a highly distinguished guest here or there, Eckroth serves up one winner after another. Opening on "And So It Goes," the pianist puts saxophonist Peter Brainin's tenor in contact with the core company—bassist Alex "Apolo" Ayala, drummer Joel Mateo and conguero Mauricio Herrera. Heavenly heat comes out of that combination, as the quintet cooks from the get-go. Then the syncopation and sizzle from the opener give way to the glistening flow of "Summer Of Love and Discontent," a piano trio performance where Eckroth and Ayala demonstrate keen interplay before Mateo takes center stage to solo out over a vamp. Percussionist Carlos Maldonado joins the crew to finish out the first half of the album with a peppy yet paranoid "Superspreader," featuring Brainin's serpentine soprano lines and Eckroth's probing piano work, and the elegant title track, eyeing Afro-Puerto Rican customs while possessing its own broad color scheme and rhythmic language.

In kicking off the second segment of Plena with the rhythmically-charged "Invernadero," Eckroth introduces and leads another ensemble by bringing bassist Edward Perez, drummer Juan Felipe Mayorga and conguero Samuel Torres into play. That same band returns for the relatively measured "Rain Song" at album's end, but the combo that first kicked things off carries the material between those points with some help from two notable brass men: trombonist John Fedchock, who harmonizes with Brainin and steps out on his own during the aptly titled "Soul Cha," and trumpeter Brian Lynch, who makes his presence felt on the intriguingly accented "Exotic Particles."

Variety in personnel proves to be a real virtue for this album, but the comings and goings of various individuals and outfits never threatens to overshadow the leading light. Eckroth's consistently impressive handiwork and creative dynamism remain the driving forces in this music.

Track Listing

And So It Goes; Summer Of Love and Discontent; Superspreader; Plena; Invernadero; Soul Cha; Exotic Particles; Rain Song.


Michael Eckroth: piano; Alex "Apolo" Ayala: bass, acoustic; Joel Mateo: drums; Mauricio Herrera: percussion; Peter Brainin: saxophone; Carlos Maldonado: percussion; Edward Perez: bass; Juan Felipe Mayorga: drums; Samuel Torres: percussion; John Fedchock: trombone; Brian Lynch: trumpet.

Album information

Title: Plena | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Truth Revolution Records

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