CD review

Gabriel Vicéns – ‘The Way We Are Created’

Gabriel Vicéns – The Way We Are Created
(Inner Circle Music INCM 094. Review by Julian Maynard-Smith)

Gabriel Vicéns is a Puerto Rican guitarist now resident in New York, and The Way We Are Created is his third album as leader (he’s also a painter – it’s his artwork gracing the album cover). His debut Point in Time (2012) showed a similar precociousness to Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life (1976), Vicéns being only twenty-three at its release but already displaying a striking individuality in his compositions and playing style, and enough musical heft to bring on board the great Eddie Gómez on bass and David Sánchez on saxophone (both of whom, incidentally, are Puerto Rican as well). That individuality also shines on his second album Days (2015) – and even more so here on The Way We Are Created, where complex melodies and intricate rhythms inspired by the Puerto Rican music and dance styles bomba and plena showcase his heritage to dazzling effect.

In his sextet he’s found musicians who perfectly match his sensibilities and each other. Alto saxophonist Roman Filiú is Cuban and has played with many big names, including Henry Threadgill, Billy Hart, David Murray and – perhaps most revealingly – Steve Coleman, as there’s something of Coleman’s restless tonal shifting in Filiú’s soloing. Pianist Glenn Zaleski cites Bill Evans as an influence and has been compared with Brad Mehldau, and has played with bassist Rick Rosato in the trio Stranahan/Zaleski/Rosato, and Rosato in turn has played with drummer E.J. Strickland in the trio of the Cuban pianist Manuel Valera. Completing the line-up is Puerto Rican percussionist Victor Pablo, who plays the barril de bomba (a barrel-shaped drum) and panderos de plena (a hand-held frame drum similar in size and shape to a tambourine).

The eponymous opening track The Way We Are Created builds from quiet guitar riffing to a complex melody with large intervallic leaps, setting up an expectation of musical complexity that’s fulfilled throughout the album. Vicéns favours a clean tone unadorned by pedals and effects, ideal for the intricacy of his soloing – and Filiú on alto delivers a fine solo as well. But what’s perhaps most impressive across the whole album are the intricate polyrhythms built up between all six players. Listen, for example, to the complex vamps using yubá, sicá and rulé rhythms from the bomba tradition on It Doesn’t Matter, The Upcoming and A City of Many Mysteries, the latter two tracks also featuring fine piano solos; or to the infectious plena rhythms on To The Unknown.

In dramatic contrast to the ensemble pieces are three interludes of under two minutes each: Caribeño Pensador [Caribbean Thinker] and Retorno [Return] are guitar and percussion duets, and Fuera de mi Cuerpo [Out of my Body] is an eerie guitar solo drenched in clanging reverb. It’s intriguing that these interludes all have Spanish titles while the ensemble pieces all have English titles. Considering how much Puerto Rico and Cuba have brought to this impressive music, Spanish deserves its place at the table just as much as the English of New York and jazz.

The Way We Are Created is released on Inner Circle Music on 15 January 2021

LINK: Pre-order The Way We Are Created on bandcamp

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s