In this issue, I had the great pleasure of interviewing the very talented Juan Garcia-Herreros, AKA The Snow Owl. I mentioned that I have been listening to Snow Owl’s music over the last few years, and am especially pleased to be reviewing his latest CD “Normas” (Which in Spanish means… a rule or group of rules that must be followed to complete an action, because it has been established or ordered this way).
As we already covered the details of Juan’s background in his December cover interview, in this review, I wanted to focus directly on the music.
“Normas” is made up of seven solid tracks of Juan’s own compositions. When asked about this project, he shared…
“I felt that it was time for me to tackle on this theme of Standards. Each and every established Jazz artist must at one point of his career record a “Standards” Album. It is an homage to the tradition and a proof of his improvisational accomplishments. I accepted this challenge and took the titles of famous Jazz Standard compositions and translated them into my interpretation of what the Standards of today in Jazz should be. For me “Normas” is the documented sounds of a musician’s pilgrimage through our planet, interpreting it’s mysteries with sound.”
Now, ‘The Snow Owl’s’ definition of “Standards” might not be what most people recognize as “Standards”. This music is predominantly Latin Jazz. It is complex and precisely executed. It is original, yet rhythmically and tonally recognizable at the same time and captures your interest and just doesn’t let you go!
Juan assembled a tight group of musicians in Vienna for this CD, including:
Juan Garcia-Herreros Electric Contrabass Guitar
Jonathan Powell Trumpet
Hector Martignon Piano
Conrad Schrenk Electric Guitar
Klaus Dickbauer Bass Clarinet
Abdoulaye Dembele Percussion
Djakali Kone Percussion
Mamadou Diabate Balafon and percussion
Roberto Quintero Percussion
Alexander Wladigeroff Trumpet and Flugelhorn
Daniel Mesquita 12-String Guitar
Stoyan Yankoulov Drums
Jeremy Powell Tenor Saxophone
Now let’s address some of the tracks…
“Señor C.P.” The opening track opens with a simple Clave beat and gains momentum as the other instruments join in. The Latin percussion sets the tone and the rest play out an intricate, complex, syncopated yet danceable melody. Juan’s bass work is the precise scaffolding that the tune rolls on. Wailing trumpet notes blending with the piano phrases make this some serious “Salsa”! The conga “Descarga” at the end of this piece accentuates the afro-antillean roots.
“Huellas” (footprints) opens with sounds of the jungle. There is musicality in the birdsongs and the trickle of the water, but the minor percussive voices and flutes transition to the horn section and a heavy African beat. The bass plays a chordal attack and balafon pick up the lead and the tempo slows to a very cool syncopated time signature. A very nice display of guitar work and 12-string accompaniment join the ever constant line of musical intention. This piece painted a mental picture for me that spans continents and time; this is a great track to just sit with your eyes closed and listen.
“Impulso Interno” (Internal impulse) is an upbeat display of more contemporary, elaborately structured music.The bass line is intricate and definitely not something you could lift by ear. Wow! This piece really showcases Juan’s playing as well as his compositional abilities. There is a marked convolution of a melody combined with the uniform platform of the percussion. This approach would seem rather disjointed but it really comes together throughout the track.
“Touched” opens with a massive drum solo that goes on for about 1:30 minutes before the rest of the band kicks in! There is no delay as the tempo gallops at a breakneck pace! Bass and piano establish the main line as the horn section compliments this carefully orchestrated frenzy. The tenor sax and trumpet have very nice runs in this tune.
This CD simply must be heard to be fully appreciated. There is an amazing variety of musical elements performed by a rock-solid group of musicians with a world-class bassist at their helm… can it get any better? See for yourself!