Leonardo La Peruta Quartet – The Emotional Touch (2011)

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Leonardo La Peruta begins The Emotional Touch with a series of skillful runs on the saxophone, almost like a call to arms. “Desperate in Blue” eventually settles into a lithe rhythm signature, but not before La Peruta has served notice: His is a talent boasting skill, precision and some serious swing.

As “Desperate” concludes, with pianist David Lenker following close behind the Spaniard’s impressive runs, the stage is set for a versatile tour de force. Each of the songs, save for Lenker’s “Blues Andalus,” was written by La Peruta. He imbues each one with a distinct personality.

“Mark Makes Miles” begins in a suitably contemplative fashion, in keeping with the cool jazz aesthetic that Miles Davis came to be known for in the late 1950s. Here, the ebb then flow of the piece showcases the deft touch of La Peruta’s rhythm section, as drummer Julio Perez and bassist Guillermo Morente provide a textured soundscape for the reedman’s increasingly complex excursions. Before long, La Peruta is pushing his sax into the stellar regions more associated with Davis’ most notable one-time sideman, John Coltrane.

La Peruta then switches to bass clarinet for “Vain Vain Vagary,” giving the song all of the intrigue of an old-fashioned cop-show car chase. “No Chance, No Way,” which finds Lenker adding a 1970s-fusion vibe with a turn on the Fender Rhodes, is its own fast-paced romp. The group slows that torrid pace a bit for “Sky Smart Sunrise,” and that quietude allows for some fascinating brush work by Perez. La Peruta’s tone on the sax is as warm as it is inviting.

Then the baritone-driven “Red Sur” begins this great push and pull, as the tune is yanked one way by a pulsing groove by Morente on bass and then the other by Lenker’s West Coast-cool bursts at the piano. La Peruta is the glue holding it all together, sounding by turns appropriately pugnacious and then delightfully elegant. (The Emotional Touch closes with a bonus reworking of this track, as well, with La Peruta switching saxes.)
“Nap New Night,” with Lenker again on the Rhodes, sounds like its name — a lullaby of sugar-plum surprises. La Peruta’s playing then mimics the bright flashes of light associated with these dreamscapes. Later, as he moves into the song’s middle section, La Peruta’s playing is as spacious and intimate as the deeper R.E.M. sleep that follows our tossings and turnings. It’s a brilliantly constructed composition.

Morente’s insistent bass opens “Are We Dancing?,” and the tendency might be to expect a groove-based number designed to get a crowd kicking up its heels. Instead, La Peruta has fashioned a modern jazz piece with a thrilling number of moving parts — starting with his own angular solo. Perez and Morente begin a thrumming, chaotic counterpoint, even as Lenker descends into a pounding, exclamatory signature. La Peruta skitters above them all, showing a tremendous command of an outside playing style that couldn’t have seemed further away just one song ago.

There are feature moments for two of La Peruta’s sideman: Guitarist Marcelo Saenz is added to the quartet for the La Peruta original “She Could Smile,” and he adheres so closely to the saxophonist’s curling lines that it’s difficult to believe they’re not conjoined. His solo is both smooth and uncannily fluent. But there, as on Lenker’s subsequent tune “Blues Andaluz,” Le Peruta’s presence continues to sit at the center of things. On the latter, the saxophonist turns what might have been an obvious opportunity to blow in the R&B style into something truly transformative. He’s just as emotionally open here as he had been intellectually demanding on “Are We Dancing.”

Until the very end, The Emotional Touch defies expectations. That’s thanks largely to La Peruta’s complete command of his instrument.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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