Jazz CD Reviews
Silvano Monasterios – Unconditional – Savant
Published on June 26, 2011
Silvano Monasterios – Unconditional – Savant SCD 2111, 46:19 ****:
(Silvano Monasterios – piano, keyboards, co-producer; Troy Roberts – tenor and soprano saxophone; Jon Dadurka –bass; Gabriel Vivas – bass (tracks 5 & 7); Rodolfo Zuñiga – drums; José Gregorio Hernández – percussion)
Despite the best efforts, Miami is not known as a jazz city. Yet there is a vital jazz community, including an excellent jazz program at the University of Miami; the area has long been a treasure trove of Latin jazz; and there are locals such as Sammy Figueroa, Jamie Ousley and former resident Arturo Sandoval, who was an important member of the music community. If you haven’t heard of Venezuelan-born pianist Silvano Monasterios, add him to the list.
Unconditional is Monasterios’ fourth outing as a leader and his first for the Savant label. The album features Monasterios’ quintet, the Fourth World Ensemble, with Monasterios on acoustic piano and electric keyboards, saxophonist Troy Roberts (a Univ. of Miami alum who has worked with Figueroa, Lew Soloff and has his own releases), bassist Jon Dadurka (who is replaced on two cuts by Gabriel Vivas), drummer Rodolfo Zuñiga (who stays busy gigging around the South Florida area) and percussionist José Gregorio Hernández.
Monasterios’ traditionally-minded seven originals and one cover focus on composition and attention to detail. Most of the material is straightforward and mid-tempo although there are some exquisite ballads and there are moments when the band kicks up the energy level.
Several key tracks are character-driven narratives of friends and family members. The opener, “Farmacia del Angel,” is dedicated to Monasterios’ earliest significant influence, his doctor father, who played piano after work. The engaging piece (which borrows its title from a poem by Colombian writer Juan Manuel Roca) incorporates some South American rhythms and merges a Brazilian texture with a Venezuelan swing. Zuñiga and Hernández create an involved but relaxed framework. Monasterios showcases his wit on the bouncing “Monsieur Petit Noir,” an animated auditory sketch of Monasterios’ obviously well-loved pet dog. Monasterios provides a repeating piano ostinato and as the tune intensifies Roberts adds a passionate soprano sax solo and Zuñiga also solos superbly. The centerpiece is the two-part “A Song for Jacques,” a mini-suite memorializing Venezuelan radio personality Jacques Braunstein, who through regular broadcasts exposed an adolescent Monasterios to the wider possibilities of jazz. The initial briefer section begins in a somber mood with Dadurka’s bowed bass, Hernández’s graceful percussion and Monasterios’ melancholy piano. The piece then amplifies somewhat as a lead-in to the second portion, which has a celebratory nature. Here, Zuñiga and Hernandez again combine forces with rhythmic flair and enthusiasm, while Monasterios and Roberts weave bright tapestries of sound and coloring.
Monasterios confirms Bill Evans as an inspiration with a new arrangement of Phil Markowitz’s “Sno’ Peas,” which Evans recorded for his 1978 Warner Bros. date, Affinity. Fellow Venezuelan Vivas steps in on bass while Roberts’ soprano sax proves a perfect choice to improvise on the enticing melody. Monasterios uniquely layers a traditional Venezuelan rhythm over the melody, which gives “Sno’ Peas” a distinctive flavor. The group closes with the modernistic fusion-laced “Black Saint,” another synthesis of contemporary and indigenous. Monasterios utilizes electric keys to furnish an urban tang while Hernández and Zuñiga insert yet more native Venezuelan rhythms. While the track is fascinating, the unrestricted outro provides a glimpse into an area Monasterios should further investigate.
1. Farmacia del Angel
2. Monsieur Petit Noir
3. A Song for Jacques Part I
4. A Song for Jacques Part II
5. Sno’ Peas
6. Forgotten Gods
8. Black Saint
— Doug Simpson