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The Black Butterflies: Primero de Mayo

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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A delightful whimsy surrounds the room where 1 de Mayo descends like a diaphanous sheet of sound amid its celestial wail. So extraordinary is the musical ensemble fronted by the hypnotic sound of saxophonist Mercedes Figueras; doubly intriguing, when entwined with the ululations and caterwauling ablutions of Tony Larokko's horns. Figueras is one of the most exciting saxophonists today; Enormously talented, and with a voice as brilliantly eccentric as an exotic Amazonian bird—or, in this instance, a very special black butterfly—she is unique among her young contemporaries. Her intonation is sharp and exacting, and she draws the fluidity out of every note played. She is capable of impossible whoops and graceful flights from a note in the lower register of, say, a soprano horn, to a shrill leaping flurry of notes that take her ideas to dizzying heights. Her solos begin in linear, logical fashion and then, almost imperceptibly, flutter into a different plane—almost into a dimension that did not seem to exist a moment ago.

Figueras' music is steeped in the vast and swelling sea of Latin American rhythms. She often finds the tango and the huyano irresistible, and can make the dusty shuffle of a Caribbean beat come alive with a rare blend of outrageous arrhythmic skitter. "1 de Mayo" is painted with the broad brushstrokes of a bolero, but then over-coated with the fiery saxophone that rushes like warm air to fill an expectant ear. "Afro Blue," Mongo Santamaria's swaggering Caribbean classic, is brilliantly interpreted, by Figueras and the ever so brilliant Tony Larokko, with a multicolored rhythmic palette. It pays homage—not just to a legion of musicians who have played this song, but also to the rhythms that have propelled it from one era to the next. Figueras is also unafraid to call upon the atonal lamentations of mystical proportions.

The leaping, flowing "Pipi's Blues" comes from an inspired pen, its gushing melody embellished by a dancing harmony unlike much of the music heard today, with the stop-start rhythms of rap and hip-hop, while Larokko's two compositions are among the several highlights of this exquisite album. "Spiritual Travels" swivels on a kind of mystical hop that enables the song to pirouette with a melodic invention guided by a rhythm as vital as a heartbeat. "Yah-Yah," a hypnotic chant echoing with the flashing brilliance of all things natural, features "Ojos Azules," a haunting Bolivian huyano sung by Figueras, as well as a lyrical tango, "Volver," also voiced, almost sotto voce, by the intriguing saxophonist.

It is probably only fitting for a marvelous record of music that seems to encompass the earth, should end with a track called "Music Heals All Wounds," which even as it might sound a somewhat autobiographical note, soon assumes majestic proportions as the musicians complete their extraordinary, shamanistic and ultimately mystical musical sojourn.

Track Listing: 1 de Mayo; Afro Blue; Pipi's Blues; Spiritual Travels; Yah-Yah; Music Heals All Wounds.

Personnel: Mercedes Figueras: soprano, alto and tenor saxophones; Tony Larokko: soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, percussion; Fred Berryhill: percussion, djembe; Bopa "King" Carre: percussion, congas; Nick Gianni: upright bass; Dan Tepfer: keyboards; Kenny Wollesen: drums.

Title: Primero de Mayo | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Self Produced

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