Pagliuca-Mena Sextet – El Templo de Las Ideas (2018)

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The Pagliuca-Mena Sextet’s Silvano Pagliuca-Mena is a multi-talented Venezuelan who plays piano, double bass, accordion, guitar, mandolin and other instruments. He is also a composer and arranger in various genres. Pagliuca-Mena’s influences include Chick Corea, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, many classical composers, Coltrane, Schönberg, El Camarón, Stefano Bollani and Koji Kondo. He also has Italian and Spanish ancestry. So, you might imagine the music is rather eclectic – and you would be right. It is very engaging and certainly makes an impression.

Silvano has worked on many projects with his brother, percussionist and composer Angelo Pagliuca-Mena – starting his first jazz experiments whilst he was part of symphonic ensembles when he was just 17. Both Pagliuca-Mena siblings have built successful musical careers. In 2014, the Pagliuca-Mena ensemble was formed by the brothers, playing a variety of venues and locations, with differing numbers of additional musicians.

The experienced bass player Elvis Martínez described them as “a fundamental piece in the new generation of the Venezuelan art music,” Martinez – himself a world recognized player who has toured over 30 countries and played with many notable musicians – became an integral part of the ensemble. Their live shows at times included work by their mother, the dancer known as La Tarabita. In 2016, they were commissioned by Sonokraft to produce 10 original free versions of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” in different musical styles and a residence at Nutopia in Maracaibo, as well as TV appearances and festivals. In 2017, the Pagliuca-Mena Sextet was joined by Albert Mora (bass), Eduardo Vega (saxophone) and Nelson Pacheco (trombone).

In April 2017, the Pagliuca-Mena Sextet played a concert for International Jazz Day in Maracaibo which included five premiered pieces and, in December, they launched their album El Templo de Las Ideas (The Temple of Ideas). Produced at Pagliuca-Mena Sextet’s studio called El Cuartico in Maracaibo, the album features Mora, Luis Alfredo “Luki” Zambrano (trumpet), Vega, Francisco Arteaga de Pool (tenor saxophone), Pacheco (trombone) and Gregory Boza (trombone). The music is an exploration of music with jazz, Latin, classical and traditional Venezuelan influences. The result is something incredibly interesting and listenable.

“Ahora O Nunca” opens El Templo de Las Ideas with resonant piano and the entire keyboard length is made good use of, before the ensemble join in with a rousing, Latin-steeped rhythmic section into which drops a wonderfully evocative trumpet solo – merging into an equally atmospheric saxophone and back to trumpet in a beautifully arranged swap and return. Under all this, some interesting things are going on with the piano and percussion. After an interesting section where the piano works up the scales in triplets before a bass solo, the final section is brass-infused percussion-led and rousing.

“Yara” has numerous rhythmic patterns and changes and some lovely tenor sax workings over a rhythm section which controls and dictates the sultry tones. The piano interjects some pretty and, at times, complex progressions and lines underneath, whilst at other times it lifts above the rest so it can be heard loud and clear but not as a solo. Very clever. It is hard to decide where the origins of this track lie as the jazz is here, yet there is the chiming ascension and descent of a classical composition and the rhythms come from many sources.

“Caribay Y las Cinco Aquilas Blancas” begins with a pretty free piano and bass interlude before the strong theme is established by the Pagliuca-Mena Sextet’s horns and a lead into a sax-led section in which Eduardo Vega simply soars. This leads into a trumpet solo over percussion which is slinky and slurpy – great in a different way. Then a micro pause, barely enough to catch a breath, before bass and piano engage in a musical conversation where the bass begins with raw bowed sounds before countering with a sonorous, deep smoothly bowed and chordal strings which create a completely different sound. Next, we are in swing mood with piano over a jazzy, quaint rhythm before an ensemble finish. So many sounds, so little time.

“Aura” is jazzy, brassy, loud and full-on big band sound. Solos for everyone including a change on sax and trombone and you can hear the difference in the players’ styles. This is a straight but also deliciously tweaked number, with a distinctive and original style. “Marabaibo Mia” is thematic, atmospheric with an almost orchestral start with static lines underneath over which different instruments develop themes. It feels slightly madrigal until the rhythm licks up and the track begins to saunter and sashay along. Again, Vega soars on sax as does Alfredo on trumpet and Pacheco on trombone, whose lines are very attractively interwoven and delivered. The piano speaks volumes in the final section and, all the while, the percussion maintains almost perfect rhythms, moving both tempo and heart. The end section is glorious.

“Guasa Influenciada” finishes El Templo de Las Ideas, and has a bigger band feel and arrangement with sections where each instrument takes the lead as well as some terrific ensemble sections. Of note are the trumpet and sax solos but the entire ensemble is excellent on this number. The section where piano and drums interact with counter rhythms, each answering the other in a different rhythmic texture, is incredible and spot on time-wise, which is hard to achieve but the brothers pull it off.

The Pagliuca-Mena Sextet’s debut album is incredible – and that is not a word I often use. I found it original, listenable and completely absorbing, not only for the musicians’ class but for the arrangements and the inclusion of so many different facets of music: It’s heavy on the jazz but also strong on the Latin, a little classical and even a touch of folk now and again. It is hard to put into words how struck I was listening to this so I am not going to try, but rather say if you want something very different but with enough familiarity to make it still comfortable, listen to this music.

It takes a lot for me to get excited by a band on first hearing, but the Pagliuca-Mena Sextet instigated just that. They are one of the most exciting bands I have heard for a long time and the delivery of this music is truly exceptional. I hope and expect that El Templo de Las Ideas is not going to be their last.

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