My first time through this album, I was listening as I did some editing on a certain publication. I was enjoying it well enough until the fourth track “Espiritual” came along. Then I was smitten. It’s a deep, bluesy gospel number with a groove that won’t quit, a perfect example of the power inherent in the simple form of the jazz trio. In this case the multi-award winning Spanish pianist Marco Mezquida and French drummer Raphaël Pannier are so perfectly in sync with each other and with bassist and leader Manel Fortiá, and the song itself so beautiful … it’s irresistible. Reader, I fairly swooned, and when I recovered myself I set aside what I’d been doing and wrote this down.
Fortià, born in Barcelona, blends the sounds of modern New York jazz with his Mediterranean and Spanish roots on this trio album. The nine tracks here, all composed and produced by Fortià, are all inspired by his experiences living in New York between 2016 and 2020.
“This album is very important to me because it reflects one of the most transcendent moments in my artistic life. I feel that living in NYC changed me tremendously and I grew a lot there,” Fortià says. “It is also the first time I recorded a full album featuring all my compositions. That I can share playing them with two of my favorite musicians with whom I have a great connection personally and musically, is like a dream come true.”
The album begins with the languid, dreamlike “Dormir” (“fall sleep”) and ends with the title tune “Despertar” or “awakening,” which though thematically similar is denser, longer, upward-yearning, just a beautiful way to wrap up the program. In between we find seven other compositions that reflect Fortiá’s blending of Mediterranean and New York moods. I’m particularly struck by the epic blending of classical piano with modern jazz aesthetics and production on the epic “Crescente”; the jazzy Latin piano etude “Simple”; and the emotive piano piece “Aires de Libertad,” which expertly blends classical with Latin jazz over a thrumming, jazzy bass-and-drum workout. Throughout, Fortiá’s lyrical and emotive bass is a constant, maybe best illustrated on “El Dia Despues” (“the day after”), a languid but not relaxed or relaxing exploration of mood. Lots of tension and eventual release.
There’s lots more here. Despertar is just a quality jazz album in all ways. Highly recommended.