Label: Biophilia Records, 2019
Personnel - Fabian Almazan: piano, percussion, electronics; Linda May Han Oh: acoustic and electric bass; Henry Cole: drums.
The Cuban-born, Miami-raised, and now Harlem-based pianist Fabian Almazan releases his fourth album as a leader, manipulating his music not only as a way to express political views and concerns about the welfare of our planet, but also as a reflection about his life and the emotional visit to his native Cuba, 23 years after leaving the country. The Land Abounds With Life reiterates him as a skilled storyteller and, as habitual, features a tight jazz triangle with bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Henry Cole occupying the lower vertices.
“Benjamin” is an acrobatic romp showcasing the bandleader’s articulatory agility on the keyboard and the response capacity of his trio mates. This richly textured, rhythmic-oriented churner overflows with fast, complex, and precise lines and its variations are implemented with elegance. The inspiration came from George Orwell’s political satire Animal Farm and the message is manifestly political.
Folk elements abound, unfolding naturally within a broad-minded jazz context. Hence, the Cuban heritage is revealed without a hitch on “The Poets”, a piece that honors the music campesina and features a sample of Cuban poet El Macaguero de Pinar improvising on Pie Forzado. It pretty much waltzes before shifting to a straightforward 4/4 passage marked by a salient odd beat. There are other hybrid tunes like “Folklorism”, an exaltation of the Afrocubanismo movement of the 20s and 30s and carried out with a thematic pulse, unison melodies, and bowed bass; and “The Nomads”, whose key and tempo shifts don’t meddle in a staggering embodiment of M-Base, rock, jazz, modern classical, and Afro-Cuban elements. Even well informed of the hardships of growing up in Cuba at that time, Almazan's intention is to celebrate life and music on this piece.
Going from one mood to another, “The Everglades” portrays the Miami wetlands in two different scenarios. A reflective first section, containing an adept bass solo with dramatic piano comping and imperturbable drumming, conjures up peaceful sunrises on a calm winter day; a more exuberant middle part in six pictures a lightning storm in the heat of July; subsequently, a complete tranquility is restored for closure.
A pair of non-originals had their place on the album: Cuban rocker Carlos Varela’s “Bola De Nieve” is a beautiful song written for the iconic entertainer Ignacio Jacinto Villa Hernandez, and was elevated by the presence of a string quartet, whereas the solo piano “Music On My Mind”, composed by the stride piano virtuoso Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith’s, resonates emotionally with intimacy as one of Almazan’s favorite pieces.
Lugubrious, lyrical, and tense, “Jaula” is another solo piano effort ingrained by sensitive modern classical gestures that attempt to sonically portray Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment during the apartheid.
These ambitious narratives speak for themselves, touting Almazan as a socially conscious voice and one of the most outstanding proponents on his instrument.
01 - Benjamin ► 02 - The Everglades ► 06 - The Nomads