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The highly accented 12/8 rhythms of bulerías and soleáres are common to Spanish flamenco music. But lending such qualities to the music of seminal bop pianist Bud Powell produces a unique and individual jazz set.
Spanish pianist and composer Alex Conde, whose Descarga for Monk turned heads back in 2015, has capably led bands since graduating from Berklee and Queens College more than a decade ago. While Thelonious Monk’s dissonant yet charming compositions have been explored by practically every jazz musician ever to play a note, Powell’s more frenetic, accelerated music receives comparatively few readings. Conde takes fleet Powell tunes such as “Bouncing With Bud,” “Parisian Thoroughfare,” and “Celia,” adds extra percussion and flamenco hand claps, duly syncopates every part, and still manages to deliver ethereal interpretations exhibiting the buoyancy and direction of a sleek ketch sailing down island. But make no mistake: This intricately arranged, thoroughly rehearsed descarga, or jam, is not Bud light.
The trio of pianist Conde, bassist Jeff Chambers and drummer Colin Douglas form the nucleus of the band, heard on all nine tracks. John Santos and Sergio Martínez intersperse various hand drums throughout; Jose Luis de la Paz adds guitar to the medium-grooving “Oblivion” and “Parisian Thoroughfare”; and Jeff Narell plays steel pan on “Wail.” Trumpeter Mike Olmos solos admirably on “Tempus Fugit” and the opening “The Fruit,” an uptempo rarity originally performed solo piano by the composer.
Conde strategically changes things up, moving geographically to the Caribbean with a jubilant calypso version of “Wail.” “Dusk in Saudi” is a soleá, a sublime ballad previously recorded only on solo piano by Powell and Chick Corea.
The various orchestration devices employed by Conde, including alternate chord changes, extended forms, written accents, vamps, false endings and various changes in dynamic levels (louds and softs) — let alone his ability to translate standard 4/4 bebop into Ibero-American and Caribbean tours de force — reveal this bandleader as a truly masterful arranger. He and his band deserve numerous kudos for their ultra-musical rendering. — James Rozzi