Is it mere coincidence, or does the rise in the number of "concept" albums by jazz big bands signal that the trend is here to stay? Trumpeter Brian Lynch
won a 2020 Grammy Award for his Journey Through Literature in Music,
and there have been other tenet-based enterprises within the past year by Dan Jonas
, John Bailey
, Eric Weissberg
, the WDR Big Band, Marcus Shelby
, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Chris Jentsch
and others. Now comes The New Immigrant Experience
, a multi-media undertaking "inspired by the experience of the Dreamers, those who are currently protected by DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program" created by President Barack Obama in 2012. That Experience
is embodied in two CDs and one DVD, with all the music composed, arranged and orchestrated by Brazilian-born Felipe Salles
who emigrated to the U.S. in 1995.
In addressing the task, which took roughly two years to complete, Salles used "speech cadences and melodic motives based on key words as [the] main source of musical material," ideograms "collected through video interviews of a representative group of Dreamers. Their personal stories, experiences of growing up bilingual and undocumented," Salles writes, also inspired his musical choices. Those conversations with Dreamers must have been intense; while there are random moments of buoyancy and good cheer, the over-all nature of the Experience
is pensive and somber, which may indeed exemplify the mind-set of those who were interviewed. While the ensemble remains ascendant, there is a solo (or two) on every number save the "Introduction" and "Coda," and they are expansive enough to allow individual members of the group to dig in their heels and brighten the music's shadowy complexion. Electronics are used to good effect on solos by tenor saxophonist Mike Caudill
and trumpeter Eric Smith
on "These Things That Are Taken for Granted."
As thematic music, what Salles has produced may be squarely on the mark. But any music, no matter its purpose, must be appraised on its own merits. In that respect, Salles fares reasonably well in spite of a propensity toward understatement that lends the enterprise an over-all tone of solemnity. On the other hand, that may be precisely what was intendedin which case, high marks for a job well done. Salles certainly makes the best use of his talented ensemble, challenging its aptitude on themes whose moderate tempos and layers of complexity are daunting at best but whose palisades are readily surmounted. Soloists, for their part, are sharp and resourceful, with every member of the reed section having a turn along with trumpeters Smith and Doug Olsen
, trombonists Clayton DeWalt
and bassist Angel Subero, pianist Nando Michelin
, guitarist Kevin Grudecki
and vibraphonist Ryan Fedak
Clearly, this was a labor of love for Salles who writes that it was "an honor . . . to be given the gift of telling [the Dreamers'] story through [his] music." Salles relates that story in his own way, using the broad palette of his Interconnections Ensemble to lay bare their hopes, dreams, desires and heartaches. It's a sharp and thought-provoking enterprise whose aural pleasures are reinforced by videos that were projected behind the ensemble during its live performance. If it's not quite a magnum opus
, Salles at least deserves props for having made the effort and poured his heart into it.
CD1: Introduction; Did You Eat?; Their Stories Have Never Been Told; An Education to Begin With; A Part and Not the Other; Survivor’s Guilt. CD2: It’s Just Lines on the Ground; Built on Thin Air; Crossing Barriers; These Things That Are Taken for Granted; Coda.
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