Every once in a while appears music of such accomplishment and beauty that it completely transcends boundaries of style or culture to become (if it is not an oxymoron) an instant classic. Sentido, the gorgeous new record by Argentinean pianist Emilio Solla and his group Afines, contains such music. Forget, for the moment, that is part of Fresh Sound's "World Jazz" imprint, and that it incorporates many aspects of South American folk music; "world" or no, this is simply one of the best jazz albums of the year.
Solla is a wonderfully fluent pianist, with a rolling, cascading style that flows like a brook, equally at home in lyrical passages and in thorny rhythmic settings. He is supported by an excellent group on this outing, with especially strong contributions from Gorka Benitez on sax and flute, and Patrice Caratini on bass. Even better than the playing are the compositions, all save one by Solla, which are dense with melodic and harmonic invention and yet instantly memorable and hummable.
"Llegará, llegará, llegará" builds slowly over its 15 minutes, beginning with a wistful piano melody soon doubled on bandoneon (an accordion-like instrument) by Carlos Morera. As guest drummer Aldo Caviglia blends in with the group's David Xirgu, the rhythmic tension slowly mounts, highlighted along the way by an excellent Benitez solo giving way to a repeated vamp that barrels to a stunning climax. A mournful tribute to a defunct Barcelona jazz club, "Las últimas Pipas" begins with a lovely piano/sax duet and ends with a neat recording trick: the band fades out, and as a recording of a long-lost Pipa gig fades in, Benitez simply picks up the cue and plays along in a boppish style for the fadeout. Pure magic.
Other highlights include the solo "Bajo Malambo," in which Solla recalls folk jam sessions of his youth in Argentina, displaying a range of emotion and pianistic technique that is positively stunning. The irresistible "Chac-a-frik" recalls a house party groove with an African/South American hybrid rhythm and unison fanfares on sax and bandoneon that sound like horn sections of old.
Sentido is jazz of the highest order and music of great emotional depth, and a better record you are not likely to hear this year.
Llegara, Llegara, Llegara; Las ultimas Pipas; Bajo Malambo; Milonga de Mis Amores; Vamos; Chac-a-Frik
Emilio Solla, piano; David Xirgu, drums; Gorka Benitez, sax and flute; Carlos Morera, bandoneon; Patrice
Caratini, bass; Aldo Caviglia, drums; David Ballesteros, violin