Fabian Almazan – Alcanza (2017)

The first thing that becomes obvious when opening the download package for Fabian Almazan’s new album Alcanza is the remarkable beauty of the recycled paper liner notes. The packaging for the high-quality MP3 download code form a striking origami which recalls the days when albums were considered a piece of art. Almazan’s music on Alcanza – Spanish for “reach” – matches the beauty of the recycled download box.

As a sideman for trumpeter Terence Blanchard, his presence is striking and driving yet fully integrated into Blanchard’s touring band. As a band leader on his fourth major project, Fabian Almazan seamlessly integrates complex musical themes with a thematic and wide ranging emotional palette.

Alcanza continues to challenge the listener as Almazan weaves a high-powered band featuring Linda Oh on bass, Henry Cole on drums and Camila Meza on guitar and vocals. The core of the band is enhanced with Megan Gould and Tomoko Omura on violin, Karen Waltuch on viola and Noah Hoffield on cello. The expansive band and the nine-movement suite open up a world of possibilities for the listener.

The first movement “Vida Absurba y Bella” explores the majesty and mystery of nature and life. It’s a fitting way to kick off the project, with Almazan creating a landscape where the absurdity of life is explored. Fabian Almazan’s piano offers a counterpoint to Meza’s vocals, while Oh and Cole provide a fast-paced rhythmic foundation. The rushes of strings are both captivating and energizing. “Merea Baja,” the next movement, unfolds in a natural way with a plaintive piano interlude by Almazan accompanied by the string section. It’s both dramatic and melancholy, and builds in intensity with Camila Meza’s vocals.

“La Voz de Un Piano is an fitting middle section of the suite, focused on the swooping piano of the composer over a lush bed of percussion and synthesized textures. “Mas,” the fourth suite, demonstrates the unfolding of adolescence and seems to be indicative of the struggle to find one’s self and the journey to maturity. Vocalist Meza is buoyed by the string section, each pushing the other to an emotional release. Fittingly, the “Alcanza Suite” works as a centerpiece to the music, connecting the parts together with violin, cello and piano initially before morphing into a higher plane of existence.

Bassist Linda May Han Oh gets the second of three instrumental solo improvisations, linking tracks with “La Voz De Un Bajo.” Oh demonstrates her singular voice yet ties it into the proceeding and overarching themes of the album. Before the next suite is explored, drummer Henry Cole shows his interpretation of individuality on the final connecting instrumental track, “La Voz De La Percusion.”

Cole’s track is dynamic and brash, yet a perfect leading to Suite VII, “Pater Familias,” which builds upon the energy of the drummer’s solo piece. Fabian Almazan utilizes the entire ensemble in this soaring epic; he also provides one of his most stirring piano solos, which seems to bounce off the rhythms played by Oh and Cole. By the time you reach “Este Lugar” and the final suite “Marea Atla,” you don’t feel that the journey is over but that it’s just begun. It’s almost as if there should be a sequel to Alcanza, and you are sitting in the theater waiting for the post credit scenes to run.

Ultimately, Alcanza is stirring, complex, emotional and musically honest. Add this album to the list of great 2017 jazz releases; it’s also another success story from Fabian Almazan’s Biophilia Records.

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier