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Drummer Diego Piñera’s latest recording is a rhythmic treat that’s trickier than it seems at first listen. The playing by Pinera and his gifted crew of collaborators — saxophonist Donny McCaslin, guitarist Ben Monder and bassist Scott Colley — is progressive yet accessible, and the quirky cadences are so delightfully playful that a listener may not immediately realize their high degree of difficulty.
“Clave Tune,” which opens the set, is a case in point. The track begins with a witty introduction by McCaslin as Piñera skitters around the edges of his kit. Moments later, a more languorous melody kicks in, with Monder and Colley sliding into the mix. The pair quickly interlock with Piñera’s groove like the gears of a clock, turning in different directions even as they’re accomplishing a single goal. Beats, thumps and strums dart around, behind and between McCaslin’s inspired lines, creating a foundation that’s somehow both utterly solid and constantly in motion.
Other tracks also operate on multiple levels, and the performers respond with a series of sublime moments. Monder’s guitar showcases on “Domingo” and “Easter in Puglia” are exemplars of the form, interspersing blindingly speedy runs with glistening sustains. Colley’s restless burbling powers the interstellar “Mi Cosmos” and the deliberate, inquisitive “De Madrugada.” And McCaslin is a marvel throughout, whether he’s taking aural flight in “Away” or caressing each note of the lovely “Conversation With Myself.”
As for the Montevideo-born, Berlin-based Piñera, he’s capable of both comic insouciance — “Robotic Night” suggests C-3PO and R2-D2 trying to figure out how to have sex with each other — and emotional resonance, as witnessed by the unexpected and evocative vocal turn he contributes to the deeply felt “Space.” His particular brand of wisdom isn’t that odd after all. — Michael Roberts