Violinist-composer Alfredo Triff, a Cuban emigre, offers a stirring song-cycle focusing on an ever-changing, ever-intriguing, often-dangerous place — bringing in all of the spices that make Miami so endlessly fascinating.
Already a celebrated musical figure in his homeland when he arrived in New York City in 1980, Triff has since worked with Eddie Palmieri (1992’s Sueno), Jack Bruce, (2001’s Shadows in the Air) Kip Hanrahan (2009’s Exotica) and Arnaldo Antunes (1992’s Kolaborazion), among others. Triff wouldn’t record his first album as a leader, however, until 1999 – constructing a series of soundscapes for electric violin on Mindtrances. That scarcely hinted at the complexity, both emotional and musical, to come with this new triumph.
In between, Triff expanded his craft through work in theater and film, composing an opera in tribute to Oscar Wilde and incidental music for Leon Ichaso’s Paraiso, among other projects. The influence of that long-form, more narrative work is heard all over Miami Untitled, which finds the violinist sharing some vocal duties with Robert Poveda, Xiomara Lougard and Rosie Inguanzo. In fact, he’s built a band as layered as his storylines, with drummers Robby Ameen and Horacio Hernandez being joined by Sammy Figueroa on percussion and Daniel Ponce on congas. Jose Valentino and Carlos Averhoff share duties on the tenor.
Cisco Dimas’ clarion trumpet opens “Orbit of Hopes and Fears,” amid an expected splash of rhythm. Raul Murciano’s keyboard stabs arrive with all of the suddenness of lightning, only to give way to Alex Berti’s thumping bass introduction to “Miaminvisible.” (Berti memorably collaborated with Triff on the 2009 album dadaSon, which also featured Ponce on the congas along with Poveda and Inguanzo on vocals, as well.) Triff’s violin works in opposition with Rene Luis Toledo’s riffy guitar asides, creating a swirling portent beyind the lyric. Triff then opens “The Howling Souls of Noise” with a short, sharp shock on his instrument before a series of brawny sax exclamations. “Everglades Eventides” features a similar musical entanglement, with Toledo and Berti starting things off with a moment conversational wit.
The unusually constructed “If Only You Knew How Much I Lied To You” undulates with a tensile danger, as Triff’s violin finds a home in this layered groove with Valentino’s flute. Toledo, Triff, Dims and Valentino then join together to embue “Languideces” with this dark mystery, something only intensified by Triff’s swooping lines. “I-95 North,” rather than settling into a bustling traffic flow, explores the more convoluted emotions tied to that journey.
“Amoraleatoria” moves from a funereal portent toward a tough stoicism, while “The Worn Skin of Days” descends into a broken melancholy. The beautifully named “Glib Mutterings, Lesser Vices” echoes all of the magic, and the danger, of an approaching nightfall. In fact, the album’s title say much about life in South Florida – both the good and the bad: “More Pricks Than Kicks,” “Exile Son-of-Bitches,” “Key West’s Last Light of Day,” “90 Miles of Revolution.”
An angry, shiver-inducing riff from Toledo opens “Cutler Glides Like Water into Sparkle,” and Triff begins one of his most turbulent passages. Amid the gunfire of rhythm, and piano runs that surprise like the law’s red wail, Miami Untitled descends into a dangerous underbelly. The subsequent “Suicidal Words” unfolds with a sense of furtive confidentiality, leading to the angular “South Beach Shootout” – which replaces the expected violence with a boisterous collective improvisation that suggests more clearly the confusion surrounding such things.
Finally, there is a rain-swept “City of Sands,” which closes Miami Untitled with a moment of clutched rumination – like a long exhalation after a day that saw many, many things.