Fabian Almazan Trio – This Land Abounds with Life – [TrackList follows] – Biophilia BREP0015, 86:26 [6/14/19] ****:
Pianist Fabian Almazan cares about people and the planet. That’s revealed in his music—especially his fourth release, the 86-minute This Land Abounds with Life—as well his label, Biophilia Records, which only issues double-sided, beautifully-crafted 20-panel, origami-inspired artwork the size of CD digipaks. The music can only be heard via streaming or with a digital download (the physical artwork includes a download code).
The 12 tracks on This Land Abounds with Life reflect Almazan’s return to his native Cuba in 2016 after a 23-year absence. The material is also a portrait of nature, folklore, literature and individuals who have stimulated or influenced Almazan. Almazan—who uses acoustic piano, electronics and percussion on this effort—is supported by Linda May Han Oh (on both acoustic and electric bass) and drummer Henry Cole, a Puerto Rican native who has also performed with Miguel Zenón, Gary Burton, Nicholas Payton and others. A string quartet accompanies the trio on one track. One of standout pieces is the 13-minute meditation, “The Everglades,” where a tranquil motif eventually morphs into an escalating mid-section where Almazan creates cresting chords on acoustic piano while Oh and Cole produce propulsive rhythms. During the tune’s second half the trio resumes a softer sound where things are as calm as a slowly-gliding river.
Almazan slips in found sounds and field recordings into some of his compositions, which helps listeners become part of the album’s thematic, Cuban foundation. “The Poets” includes Spanish spoken-word from a noted local Cuban poet who improvises using an ancient folkloric cadence. After the spoken-word introduction, “The Poets” develops into a rhythmically-diverse arrangement accentuated by a Latin beat punctuated by Almazan’s piano and supplementary percussion. Cole’s incessant drums and Oh’s bass also add to the fast pace and changing core. The lengthy “Folklorism” is a tribute to the 1920s and 1930s Afro-Cuban musical movement, when indigenous African and Cuban influences advanced into the mainstream, thus affecting popular and jazz music. The rhythmic flow is varied during “Folklorism,” mirroring a melding of musical measures. The exquisite “Uncle Tío” memorializes one of Almazan’s Cuban family members, who passed away soon after Almazan’s Cuban trip. “Uncle Tío” is like other pieces in that it has serene moments, builds up and then ebbs, which provides an emotionally complex association.
Almazan’s family and cultural connections also stipple through other numbers. The genteel “Songs of the Forgotten” was kindled by a journey into a Cuban forest with Almazan’s cousin. The noises of birds’ flit in and out of the arrangement, which also includes samples of the Cuban and U.S. national anthems. The humor-laced, upbeat “Pet Steps Sitters Theme Song” was originally intended as music for his parent’s startup website but was turned down. It initially popped up on Terence Blanchard’s 2013 album Magnetic, at a time when Almazan was in Blanchard’s group. The updated, trimmed-down trio presentation is a must-hear. The frenetic opener has a different sort of link to Almazan’s cultural background. The five-minute “Benjamin” is named after the wise but skeptical donkey in George Orwell’s 1945 novel, Animal Farm. The controversial and political fable—which satirized the 1917 Russian Revolution—was banned in Cuba.
Not all the music was penned by Almazan. One notable track is Carlos Varela’s “Bola de Nieve,” which Almazan states is “one of the first pieces of music I remember hearing because my parents would play it all the time.” The composition is a moving homage to Jacinto Villa Hernández, a Louis Armstrong-type figure in pre-revolution Cuba. Almazan previously did this in a strict trio format on 2011’s Personalities, although Almazan had written an arrangement for strings. Eight years later here is the result, a magnificent and decisive endeavor which combines acoustic bass, acoustic piano, lithe drums alongside two violins, viola and cello. Another wonderful interpretation is an album-closing, solo piano rendition of Willie “the Lion” Smith’s minimalist stride-piano “Music on My Mind.” This cut is a masterful and melodically marvelous way to bring This Land Abounds with Life to a memorable conclusion.
Fabian Almazan – piano, electronics, percussion; Linda May Han Oh – acoustic bass, electric bass; Henry Cole – drums; Megan Gould, Monica Davis – violin (track 8); Karen Waltuch – viola (track 8); Eleanor Norton – cello (track 8)
Songs of the Forgotten
Bola de Nieve
Pet Steps Sitters Theme Song
Music on My Mind