Alex Chadsey, Farko Dosumov and Jeff Busch live in Seattle, where they make music. Solid, groove-filled Cuban jazz, to be precise. How that came about is probably a pretty good story, but the result is duende libre’s superb self-titled debut release.
I’ve been lucky enough to have Duende Libre for a couple of months now, and several times I’ve had to force myself to take it out of the player and listen to something else that needs to be reviewed. This album is a solid, upbeat collection of tunes that, like Cuba itself, is an engaging blend of musical styles.
Chief among them are straight-ahead hard bop spiced up with varying levels of heat in the form of Afro-Cuban rhythms. As their publicity material puts it, duende libre “bridges Latin folk sounds and jazz approaches.” Yes indeed.
The opening track “Rio Pescadores” is a perfect example of that approach. It’s pretty much a straight-ahead trio jazz composition, with Chadsey leading on piano with the sunny, West Coast-style melody, Dosumov playing a funk-laden line on his electric bass, and some Latin rhythms from drummer Busch. A middle section goes very Cuban, including our first exposure to Chadsey’s limber montuno, the distinctive Cuban style of piano soloing. Here’s a recent live video of this tune.
The pensive, melodic “Moon Waltz” is another one along these lines, solid jazz with a touch of Latin flavor. The most Cuban-influenced track is the languid “Sevilla,” on which Chadsey showcases that montuno again – which to me comes off as very classically old-school Cuban, a far cry from the fireworks of most salsa. (Dosumov has a splendid bass solo section here and on other tracks, on which he scats along creditably.) By contrast, “Michel” bops even harder than “Pescadores” but has a definite soul-jazz groove, thanks to Chadsey’s Rhodes-like electric keys.
That electric sound continues and the disc travels further into soul and fusion territory as it goes on. “Razzle Dazzle” is a curious title for a laid-back groove that I just love, seeing as how it leans even harder on that Rhodes sound. Things go full late-’70s Stevie Wonder on the funked-up “For The Rekkerd,” which features guest scatting vocals from Chava Mirel in harmony with bassist Dosumov. He and Chadsey then turn in a head-spinning duet on bass and keys that conjurs up the sound of old-school synths.
Chadsey pulls out all the stops, pretty much literally, on “Still,” which features a huge-sounding organ on the disc’s longest track at nearly nine minutes of Latin-style disco jazz. As much as I love the classic Cuban sound, I’m even more strongly drawn to these soul-jazz excursions, particularly the final cut “Sinister Minister” and “Funkination,” which has a little bit of everything tucked inside the grooves of its psychedelic soul salsa mix.
Duende libre’s debut is endlessly entertaining for fans of both jazz and Cuban music. (All this and enigmatic, psychedelic cover art, too!) It’s definitely one of my favorites in a year that’s already packed with high-quality releases.