Brazilian American Felipe Salles has used his Interconnections Ensemble big band to explore themes around the immigrant experience on its debut and sophomore releases in 2018 and 2020. The Lullaby Project was a personal journey of exploration of Brazilian lullabies, and, its follow-up The New Immigrant Experience was a tribute to the hundreds of thousands of young American immigrants known as “Dreamers” who came to the U.S. as children and were at least temporarily protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
For the ensemble’s new third release Home Is Here Salles enlists some of his fellow immigrants from the jazz community for a majestic album of jazz with varying degrees of Latin atmosphere. Inspired by these eight musicians, the saxophonist, composer and bandleader wrote eight pieces – one for each of them, each a mini-suite between eight and 10 minutes in length.
It’s a great album of heartfelt, powerful jazz featuring these eight soloists backed by the hefty Interconnections Ensemble. We’re talking five saxes and woodwinds, five trumpets and flugelhorns, four trombones, and a five-member rhythm section of piano, guitar, bass, drums and percussion. Plus the soloists, including Salles himself on one number. The others run the gamut from old pros to young Turks, but all are excellent on their instruments and all have something to say. They’ve come from all over, mostly the Western Hemisphere, to the U.S., bringing with them their stories, hopes and dreams: the legendary Cuban-American saxophonist and clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera; his countryman Yosvany Terry on sax and percussion; the French saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Jacques Schwarz-Bart originally from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe; Australian flugelhornist Nadje Noordhuis; Chilean saxophonist Melissa Aldana; Brazilian guitarist Chico Pinheiro; and vocalists Sofia Rei of Argentina and Magos Herrera of Mexico. I think all of them except Schwarz-Bart now are based in the international jazz capitol, New York.
There’s no way to pick a favorite from these eight works, although the opener “Re-Invention,” featuring D’Rivera, is a real standout. The great Cuban-American reed player and bandleader excels with an inventive, fluid solo on clarinet in the early going of this 10-minute suite, and a soaring closing alto sax solo. It’s a polyrhythmic modern jazz composition in a nine-beat signature with a strong Latin flavor but all kinds of other strains from experimental to post-bop to rollicking big band. Don’t miss the lovely mellow trumpet solo by ensemble member Jerry Sabatini.
Another one that really appeals to me is “Wanderlust” featuring flugelhornist Noordhuis It’s more or less a straight ahead piece in a moderate four with very deliberate beats and no overt Latin features, although Nando Michelin’s piano solo nods toward Afro-Cuban colors. Noordhuis really takes charge of the piece with some mature and lyrical soloing.
I find both of the vocal pieces immensely appealing. Argentinian Sofia Rei inhabits the warm “Meridian 63,” which effectively combines a warm West Coast jazz vibe with a symphonic Sketches of Spain sound from the band arrangement. Rei wrote the lyrics to a tune Salles composed with her in mind. And Magos Herrera conveys a lot of emotion in her wordless vocalizing on “Two Worlds.” This tune’s backing heavily features vibraphone and bass clarinet, a great combination of textures and colors, although the piece itself has a slightly under-rehearsed sound in places, but it’s a complex work veering far into modern classical compositional territory.
Every one of these pieces has outstanding performances by soloists and ensemble members alike. Clayton DeWalt has a dazzling trombone solo on the driving post bop Latin jazz “Polymorphous,” featuring Jacques Schwarz-Bart. There are multiple hair-raising moments on the heavily brass-laden, polyrhythmic World Citizen. featuring Yosvany Terry – including a cascading brass choir and an astounding bass trombone solo from Angel Subero – and Terry himself plays a mesmerizing alto sax solo. On “Storytelling” Aldana displays multiple sides of her talent, with a rubato tenor solo in the midst of a lyrical, colorful section with generous contributions from guitar and vibes; and another more jazzy solo, abetted by a sweet understory of flutes, clarinets and alto saxes. And “The Promise of Happiness,” is a tasty bit of languid, sunny Brazilian electro-acoustic jazz from Pinheiro, one of Brazil’s leading current players.
The solos are outstanding, the ensemble work is stellar, and the compositions hang together thematically. Home Is Here is an inspiring work of modern jazz by some of the world’s top players.
(Tapestry Records, 2023)