The Black Butterflies – 1 de mayo – self released TBB001, 63:30 ****:
(Mercedes Figueras – soprano, alto & tenor saxophones; Tony Larokko – soprano, alto & tenor saxophones, percussion; Fred Berryhill – percussion, djembe; Bopa “King” Carre – percussion, congas; Nick Gianni – upright bass; Dan Tepfer – keyboards; Kenny Wollesen – drums)
There is a Latin-tinged, free-jazz quality that filters through 1 de mayo, the debut release from New York City sextet The Black Butterflies. That is appropriate since the band’s leader, multi-saxophonist Mercedes Figueras, was born and musically educated in Argentina before she moved north and became part of the Big Apple jazz scene.
One listen to the six-track, approximately one hour program proves Figueras has finesse for group interaction that flows from soulful balladry to frenzied flare-ups. Figueras gets a versatile tone from her supportive ensemble that comprises multi-saxophonist Tony Larokko, percussionists Fred Berryhill (numerous credits including Dave Douglas) on djembe and Bopa “King” Carre (a long-standing resident of the New York music community) on congas, upright bassist Nick Gianni, drummer Kenny Wollesen – who has recorded and toured with Tom Waits, Bill Frisell, Norah Jones and John Zorn and is a founding member of the New Klezmer Trio – and pianist Dan Tepfer, who has collaborated with Lee Konitz and performed with Steve Lacy and Bob Brookmeyer.
The most notable piece is a raucous interpretation of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue.” It is evident that Figueras and Larokko’s double sax presentation is influenced by John Coltrane, who covered the tune many times on tour. While the percussionists elicit a Caribbean flavor, Larokko and Figueras generate a sax stratum that rekindles Coltrane’s spirit, complete with squeals, squawks and a manic melodicism. The fervent two-saxophone exchanges strongly echo similar interchanges between Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. Keeping with the forward-thinking but historical viewpoint, Tepfer contributes an electric keyboard solo suggestive of Herbie Hancock’s involvement in the late-‘60s Miles Davis quintet.
Soulfulness is expounded on another blues-tinted number, Figueras’ “Pipi’s Blues,” which has an ascendant tempo that evokes classic soul-jazz. Tepfer stays on electric piano and incorporates a straightforward, warm tone that brings to mind Richard “Groove” Holmes’ style. Wollesen adds a friendly, ticking drum solo while Figueras preserves the genial attitude with amiable sax.
Larokko shares Coltrane’s adventurous panache and spiritualism, which is exemplified on his two compositions. “Spiritual Travels” proceeds with a tug-and-pull percussive characteristic. As the rhythm crew builds up repetitive percussion tiers, the sax players create cyclical chords. The result is a heady piece that has a mystical but earthy attribute. The experimental “Yah-Yah” goes even further. The epic Don Cherry-like track progresses from whistles and a range of percussion instruments to African chanting, and eventually Figueras’ resolute Spanish singing where she relates the story of “Ojos Azules,” which was a popular Bolivian song. After the vocals end, the cut turns into an explosive vehicle for twinned saxes that bleat, blow and blare forcefully and dynamically.
Although this is a studio outing, The Black Butterflies maintain a live timbre throughout. This helps furnish an excellent setting for Figueras’ intonations, flexibility, frantic flights of fancy and the differing facets of her impressive talent. If anyone wants to find a new and exciting saxophonist Figueras is a young musician ready to be discovered.
1. 1 de mayo
2. Afro Blue
3. Pipi’s Blues
4. Spiritual Travels
6. Music Heals All Wounds
— Doug Simpson