Ricardo G. Lewis' trio of violin, piano, and bass, supplemented on its debut recording Battangó by a pair of percussionists and an operatic soprano, presents a challenging, risk-filled listening experience. While remaining rooted in Afro-Cuban jazz, the Lewis Trio confidently, successfully, and playfully experiments with Cuban traditional styles, touches of aggressive dissonance, snippets of vocal reference points, and Ricardo Lewis' unusually voiced violin.
"Obba-in," the leadoff track, smacks of the interpenetrating of two musical worlds, Iván G. Lewis' octave-driven salsa piano smoothly sliding into subtle jazz chord structures while Alain Pérez' thudding bass and Georvis Pico's drums undergird rhythm. Ricardo Lewis' scratchy, low-register violin plays briefly with a simple theme before embarking on digressions so daring that they seem to inhabit a parallel tonal cosmos, consistent with the other instruments only providentially, but that grace encompasses even a traditional male vocal duet and a number of rhythmic shifts. On the title track, a slow violin intro gives way to glistening piano and a pretty, longing violin melody, dissonant enough to unsettle yet sweet enough to complement Linda Mirabal's unexpected vocals. Late in this long track, the instruments once again diverge into loosely linked parallel musical universes, snippets of male vocals tracking the ensemble with a ghostly delay.
There are also slow, pretty pieces, such as "Amanda," whose opening dreamlike Rhodes glissandos seem to attract a romantic violin melody backed by restrained Cuban percussion. An Argentine feel suffuses "Notas de la Habana," a punctilious swaying dance, violin and percussive playfulness sweetening a slightly ominous edge. And on "Salsera," a jazzy beat accented by Yuri Nogueras' Cuban percussion grounds a light, staccato melody carried in unison by violin and what sounds like a flute.
Battangó offers surprising tonal textures and instrumental mastery confidently equal to the ambition of the production. - Jim Foley
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