Abraham Barrera’s Dream Quintet

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QUINTETO DE ENSUEÑO (DREAM QUINTET) / BARRERA: Tributo. Mexicanista. Catarina. Mezcal. Sin Palabras. Atemporal. Bovarismo. Rendir Culto. El Alba / Abraham Barrera, pno; Iraida Noriega, voice; Aarón Cruz, bs; Fernando De Santiago, Vihuela; Giovanni Figueroa, dm / Urtext JBCC284

This CD came to me with no liner notes whatsoever, thus I had to review it “cold,” without an idea of what the concept was. The music is evidently modern jazz with a Spanish bias, and what I found interesting about it, aside from its evident and consistent vitality, was a certain resemblance to Sérgio Mendes’ old Brasil ’66 group, which although pop-oriented had several strong jazz features in it. I was particularly happy with Iraida Noriega; FINALLY, a modern female jazz singer who swings out with a bold, brassy voice and not the whispery, come-hither “lounge” style that seems to be so pervasive nowadays!

Iraida Noriega

Iraida Noriega

One difference between Barrera’s group and Mendes’ is their use of more complex rhythms. Another is that there is even more improvisation going on in the background, though Mendes himself was a very fine improvising pianist. Barrera’s drummer, Giovanni Figueroa, plays quite complex beats that propel the band, and Vihuela player Fernando De Santiago is recorded just well enough to be heard in the ensemble without overpowering it. Interestingly, none of the vocals have words, but are extended scat solos, and Noriega clearly dominates these tracks the way Lani Hall and Bibi Vogel (later replaced by Janis Hansen) did with Brasil ’66, though Mendes’ singers sang lyrics.

Catarina begins slowly with Noriega singing over Aarón Cruz’ bowed bass, somewhat breaks the pop feeling of the album. Here, the Vihuela sounds more like a harp than a guitar, and after De Santiago’s solo the music moves at a fairly quick 6/8. Barrera has an excellent piano solo on this one. Noriega’s vocal improve is also terrific, and as we suddenly switch to Mezcal the tempo shifts again to a rapid sort of Brazilian beat, which later on shifts again to 6/8, now at a much faster pace. I should point out that Noriega’s voice, although clear and well-controlled, has a bright Latin edge to it.

Clearly, this is a hugely talented group of musicians. On Atemporal Noriega and the group indulge in some strongly Middle Eastern sounds which they wed to their essentially Latin style. They almost sound as if they are improvising these songs into being as they’re playing them, which I find intriguing. Well worth hearing!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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