From Now On
(Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records)
The guitar artistry of Oscar Peñas, a native of Barcelona who today is a well-established member of New York City’s youth-oriented jazz scene, takes a backseat to his conceptual visions and compositional skills on this low-key and inviting album, his third release as a leader. Here, the 39-year-old musician mostly plays a supporting role, strumming countermelodies and adding fat chords that keep the session anchored to the chamber-jazz aesthetic he favors. When he does solo, as on the moody ballad “Samuel Smith” and “Julia,” which has the feel of a sultry samba-canção (samba ballad), he does so with a reverential attitude, seemingly more concerned with his tone and the lineal formation of his inventions than with trying to deliver an overpowering technical statement. The nylon-string guitar sound he’s fashioned, strongly rooted in his classical training, is warm and deftly articulated.
From Now On includes two tunes written in the style of Brazil’s century-old choro, an idiom that boasts both a chamber-music structure and improvisational elements. Other reference points that Peñas taps include various classical traditions, avant-garde jazz and, when Gil Goldstein adds his accordion on two tracks, the harmonic tension of Astor Piazzolla’s tango nuevo.
Although the overall character of the recording is largely somber and introverted, Peñas achieves a wide range of tonal and emotive colors and rhythmic contours through the skilled musicians who accompany him. Saxophonist Dan Blake’s speedy articulations and shrill attack in the upper register provides a night-and-day contrast to the leader’s conservatory-polished playing. The ensemble is rounded out by bassist Moto Fukushima, who brings hints of funk and flamenco to the date, and drummer Richie Barshay, who provides some heavenly cymbal work.
While From Now On isn’t for everyone, many adventurous listeners will welcome Peñas’ daring mix of structural formality and improvisational capriciousness.