Viñolas is a true international player. As a drummer he has played with musicians in jazz and other idioms throughout Spain as well as in France, Cuba, Turkey, Portugal and Austria. Viñolas has been blind since his birth in a village in Catalonia, and showed an early interest in music, playing classical piano and Catalan music with local student ensembles, where he showed particular interest in drums. Largely self-taught in his early years, he’s been a voracious student of all aspects of modern music in various schools, workshops, and through private lessons.
In 2004 he spent a few weeks in New York training with percussionists Ernesto Simpson (Cuba), Johnny Almendra (Puerto Rican American) and American Jeff Ballard (Ray Charles, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea). He’s collaborated with other musicians from around the world, and played in projects from jazz to reggae to rock, flamenco and funk. He has a couple of leader dates under his belt, and now has a recording with his new group, a classic jazz quintet cleverly dubbed 5ET.
Of those choice covers I mentioned, the one that really stands out to me is Jorge Rossy’s “Mr. Smiles,” which kicks off with a jaunty intro from Viñolas, then slides into alternating melodic statements from trumpeter Pol Omedes and tenor saxophonist Miguel Fernández, who then takes the first solo slot on this deliciously swinging ballad. Another nice one is Thelonius Monk’s “Ruby My Dear,” to which Viñolas has appended a sultry, Latinate prelude. This one is sung by Rita Payés in a rather beguiling Spanish (gamely swooping a couple of octaves at least and dealing with Monk’s nontraditional harmonies), accompanied by lush lines from Omedes and Fernández – and then Payés adds a lovely trombone solo!
On his originals Viñolas wisely draws heavily on the trumpet-tenor pairing out front of the swing-heavy rhythm section of himself on drums, Joan Monné on piano and Manel Fortià, double bass. Strongest of the lot is probably the opening track “Falcó Pelegrí,” but the deeply grooved waltz “Manso’s Blues” is also a close contender, full of rich, chewy horn harmonies and durable solos. His melancholy ballad “Enyor de les Teves Carícies” (Catalan – I miss your caresses), takes you back to a Greenwich Village nightclub in the late ’50s; Fortià’s bass line on this one is superb and Fernández’s solo smooth and lush.
The rearrangement of the standard waltz “Days of Wine and Roses” into a Latin-tinged tune in four beats is the only track that doesn’t work all that well to my ear, although as usual Fernández finds a tasteful solo to explore. Not to minimize Omedes’s solos on any of these tracks, either, all of which sound a bit influenced by Kenny Wheeler with their occasional slides into scratchy in-between notes. And the album wraps nicely on the solid bop of “Pols oposats s’atrauen” (Opposite poles attract). Omedes slings around precise but swing-laden triplets on his solo here like they grow on trees!
If you’re looking for a fresh take on modern hard bop, this self-titled debut album from David Viñolas’s 5ET fits the bill.