Sometimes the most compelling artists are the ones that escape a quick and easy definition. Strict adherence to stylistic traditions implies a set of guidelines that come with the given genre. As a result, listeners bring a set of expectations to a musical experience, based on those guidelines. When an artist breaks the rules, they build more exciting music that leaves audience members wondering what will come next. At the same time, a varied artist needs a connection to tradition – they can’t simply throw together random musical aesthetics and expect to form a cohesive sound. Their combinations of ideas need to reflect the past and the resultant concepts need to have a foundation in tradition. Respect for the cultural guidelines of a musical style brings a sense of authenticity to a style; blending styles demands a connection to those guidelines. It’s a fine line – the artist must choose which guidelines to follow and which ones to disregard; faulty choices lead to a washed out sound while success breads truly engaging music. Guitarist Aquiles Baez pulls together and variety of ideas and aesthetics on his album La Patilla, creating an indefinable style, full of exiting twists and musical depth.
A Focus Upon South American Musical Styles
Several songs focus upon South American musical traditions, reflecting Baez’s strongest cultural ties. Drummer Adolfo Herrera and percussionist Alexander Livinalli pound a thunderous Venezuelan gaita rhythm to open “A San Benito,” leading into a catchy melody, played by clarinetist Anat Cohen with lively movement. The band lowers their volume behind Baez, allowing him to build from spacious lines into chromatic sequences. Cohen moves her improvisation from the deep tone of her lower register into assertive rhythmic ideas in her upper ranges, building into Livinalli’s solo. The rich quality of Cohen’s clarinet against Baez’s guitar brings depth to the Brazilian influenced “Choro,” which foregoes traditional rhythmic structures and rides over a jazz ballad. Cohen’s improvisation showcases her expressive range as utilizes dynamics, phrasing, and her instrument’s tonal quality to push her idea into completion. Baez proves himself as a sensitive accompanist while his improvisation logically combines his personal voice with chordal colorings. Baez wraps around the rhythmic nature of the Venezuelan joropo with an intricate guitar introduction on “Buscando Caiman En Boca’e Caño,” giving way to an energetic melody from Cohen and flautist Huáscar Barrados. The rhythm section builds into an intense rhythmic drive behind Barrados’ syncopated solo which plays upon the song’s furious forward motion. Baez grabs this energy for his cuatro solo and delivers an aggressive barrage of rhythmic chordal ideas. Bassist Roberto Koch establishes a 6/8 vamp that soon intertwines with Baez’s complimentary line on “Donde El Cielo Se Encuentra,” creating a Peruvian influenced groove. Pablo Gil’s soprano sax slithers around the contemplative feel and then builds tension against Baez’s assertive comping. As Baez creates his statement, he aggressively utilizes polyrhythmic chordal strums, countering Diego Álvarez’s consistent cajon. This connection with South American traditions forms a core of Baez’s repertoire, and provides a center to his approach.
Exploring Caribbean and Spanish Musics
Other tracks draw upon the greater world of Caribbean and Spanish musical traditions, adding an expansive variety to Baez’s Latin Jazz approach. Baez centers his sound around an Andalusian scale on “Como La Guayabera,” which produces a flamenco influence against multiple cajons and clapping. Baez creatively explores this sound during his improvisation, integrating characteristic articulations and fast runs. After Gil returns to the melody, Alvarez and Herrez engage in an intensive cajon conversation, trading strong ideas. Gil opens “Goajira” with a short melody that bounces between Cuban rhythmic ideas and jazz colorings. He quickly jumps into a syncopated solo, inspiring powerful interaction from the rhythm section. Baez slowly builds his improvisation, leading into a tasteful conga statement from Gerardo Rosales. Baez mixes jazz swing, Caribbean flavor and an engaging 5/4 time feel on “La Patilla,” resulting in a powerful forward motion and distinctive groove. After Gil travels through a complex melody full of twisting lines, Baez expertly navigates the odd time signature, building an exciting and fluid statement. The rhythm section thins the texture completely behind Gil, allowing his improvisation to grow into an explosive storm. Baez combines an authentic knowledge of these styles with a creative compositional approach to widen his musical palette while keeping his focus upon Latin Jazz.
Integrating Outside Influences
Baez further escapes definition as a traditional Latin Jazz artist with a group of compositions that reflect his experiences outside the influence of South America and the Caribbean. Cohen’s gorgeous tone, warm vibrato, and expressive abilities breathe life into “O Algo Asi,” a tender jazz waltz. Baez and Koch form a supportive and unobtrusive foundation while Cohen dramatically constructs a colorful statement. Baez follows her lead with a short but meaningful solo that gives insight into his compositional purpose. Poignant noodling grows into an uplifting groove on “Así Dice Mi Negro,” a duet between Baez and Alvarez. The overdubbed layers of cajon, congas, and drum kit align closely with Baez’s guitar work, resulting in a tight arrangement. The song gains momentum through Baez’s improvisational liberties and the several percussion breaks. Baez weaves gentle melodies over Koch’s pedal tone on the introduction to “Bajo Tu Techo De Estrellas,” leading into Cohen’s insightful melody. Cohen thoughtfully spins understated ideas into a beautifully executed and very musical thought. Baez travels through the ballad more assertively, making a smooth transition back into the melody. These songs reflect Baez’s standing as a complete musician; an artist that specializes in Latin Jazz but also holds a thorough understanding of several outside styles.
A Powerfully Unifed Sound That Defies Definition
Baez jumps between a variety of influences on La Patilla, but the strength of his vision and his dedication to stylistic integrity create a powerfully unified sound. He obviously holds a broad knowledge of South American and Caribbean genres, and he understands them deeply. When he utilizes each style, he doesn’t simply reference them, he reflects an authentic performance aesthetic. At the same time, Baez finds room to push his musicality by finding creative ways to interpret the genres. Odd time signatures, lush jazz harmonies, twisting melodies, and complex forms all bring Baez’s personal vision into the forefront. His application of these unique compositional ideas happens within the context of each genre’s individual aesthetics though. Baez never sacrifices tradition for innovation – he finds a balance between the two ideals. The group supports Baez’s diverse musical approach, jumping styles with ease and improvising energetically. Cohen forms an especially powerful presence on the album with her deep musicality and passionate solo voice. Each piece of Baez’s musical presentation shines with musicality and integrity, although they defy definition. Baez’s diverse musical directions may be hard to classify, but La Patilla makes this fact a mute point – his overall vision resonates with a striking presence that only needs to be heard to be understood.