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Alfonso Calvo Septet: Sea Ahead

James Nadal By

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From the burgeoning and prolific Spanish jazz scene comes another quality production on the progressive Free Code label, based out of Galicia. Continuing this musical momentum is local bassist Alfonso Calvo, who formed a septet to showcase his compositional and leadership skills on Sea Ahead. Calvo was motivated from his recent association with Marcos Pin's "Broken Artist," and expands upon the septet foundation with a sophisticated realization. He recorded in a quartet format in 2014, releasing "No Name," with the No Name Quartet; two of his band mates from that venture appear on this session, saxophonist Pablo Castaño, and pianist Iago Mouriño.

The record is comprised of six Calvo originals, encompassing a variety of themes and structures. The title track is a tranquil homage to the refugees crossing the Mediterranean, in attempt to find a better life. It commences with the lenient vibes of Ton Risco, enveloped by the dual saxophones in passages suggesting tension, release coming with the soprano solo by Castaño, as if washing upon the shore. "En Dous Pasos," takes it back to the blues, with expanded harmonies along the hard bop vein, tenor man Xosé Miguelez interplaying with Castaño, again on soprano. Calvo also gives himself some room to stretch out, on this appealing horn driven number. The vibes/saxophones exchange returns on "6AM," which revolves around a 6/8 tempo fused with an underlying flamenco cadence for a mysterious effect.

There is a diverse contemporary jazz direction on "The Stolen Key," trumpeter Rubén Salvador teasing Miguelez, who moves over to flute. Pianist Mouriño is featured in a captivating improvisation, which sets up the finale, trombonist Bruno Valle winding it up. The highlight number is arguably "Anna May," where the septet is arranged for an optimal big band sound, complemented by solid swinging from drummer Naíma Acuña. The soloing is well dispersed, and the impact of the full throttle horn section is exceptional throughout. Calvo reconsiders the flamenco influence, with a fandango modulation, in the closing number, "Come Spring," exhibiting a clever tempo variation, with strong counterpoints from the horns depicting a prominent Iberian presence, the piano in the mid-section offering a respite, leading to a rousing ensemble closure.

The Alfonso Calvo Septet is an extension of Calvo, an introspective musician, on a mission. A native of Santiago de Compostela, he is well prepared with an extensive educational background, and has assimilated the intricacies of complex jazz composition, while steadily building a reputation as a first call bassist. By his own admission, it is tough to perform in Spain with an extended outfit, but the effort and tribulations are worth the music represented. Sea Ahead stands on its own merits, it is cerebral, offers polished improvisations, and has the essential sense of swing required.

Track Listing: Sea Ahead; En Dous Pasos; AM; The Stolen Key; Anna May; Come Spring.

Personnel: Alfonso Calvo: double bass; Pablo Castaño: alto sax, soprano sax; Xosé Miguélez: tenor sax, flute; Rubén Salvador: trumpet, flugelhorn; Bruno Valle: trombone; Iago Mouriño: piano; Naíma Acuña: drums; Ton Risco: vibraphone.

Title: Sea Ahead | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Free Code Jazz Records

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