Fresh Sound Records has really been living up to its name lately by releasing some delightfully original, beautifully conceived recordings. One of the latest is saxophonist Carlos Michelini’s "Chacarera Below Zero".
Born in Argentina in 1972, Michelini began studying piano at the age of eight, before moving on to clarinet and then saxophone a couple of years later. His tutelage under some of the best music teachers in Argentina and Brazil prepared him for a scholarship to Boston’s Berklee School Of Music, where he graduated with honors, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Saxophone Performance.
Michelini has also studied with some of the most accomplished masters of the saxophone here in America, including Jerry Bergonzi, Joe Lovano and George Garzone, among others. His thorough understanding and control of the instrument are definitely apparent on this recording. He plays with a full, robust tone and his solos are an endless stream of exciting, novel ideas.
One of the things that contributes to the ‘fresh sound’ of this recording is the fact that most of the tracks (all but two being Michelini compositions) are based on the folk music of the indigenous people of South America. "Carnavalito De La Esperanza" has its origins in the rhythms of the music of the Coyas, the native people of North Argentina. "El Lauchin" originates from the music of the African people that border Argentina and Uruguay. "Estacion Piazzola" was inspired by Astor Piazzola, his counterpoint melody and the contemporary harmonies used in tango. Some of the songs are vehicles for political commentary. "Argentina Expire ‘03" is dedicated to all Argentinean people who have suffered at the hand of political corruption following the military regime, while "Desaparecidos" is dedicated to the thousands of Argentines who disappeared and were tortured under this same cruel dictatorship.
Also adding interest to the recording is Michelini’s use of sounds not usually associated with straight-ahead jazz - spoken word, chanting and even some sound effects. "El Lauchin", which was written in celebration of his newborn daughter, Vitoria, opens with the sound of a baby crying, and "Rain Of Peace" begins with the sound of rain falling gently in the background. "Nostalgia From Nowhere" begins with commentary from Argentinean comedian and satirist Enrique Pinti while "Si Llega A Ser Tucumana" opens with the incantation-like singing of female folkloric vocalist La Bagualera, followed by lyrics spoken by the tune’s composer, Cuchi Leguizamon Zamba.
You might think that some of these elements would result in a somewhat gimmicky or pretentious sound, but nothing could be further from the truth. From the first note to the last this recording sounds wholly spiritual and organic, but never overly heavy, even on the more melancholy tunes. This is very emotional music, evoking feelings of joy as well as sadness, but without ever sounding contrived or manipulative.
Of course, Michelini would not have been able to accomplish any of this without a great band behind him and fantastic musicianship from all involved. Here, Michelini plays tenor and soprano sax, bass clarinet, b-flat clarinet and some ethnic wind instruments native to South America (the xicus, erque and quenas). Joining him are Julio Santillan on guitar, Leonarado Genovese on piano, Santiago Greco on electric bass and Franco Pina on drums. Everyone delivers a brilliant performance.
"Chacarera Below Zero" is a beautiful blend of modern jazz and world music that shouldn’t be missed. I highly recommend it.