Cuban-Born Jazz Duo Produce Thoughtful Musical Excursion

The Cuban born, classically trained jazz pianist Elio Villafranca plays in a lyrical, yet not quite florid style that moves from Latin style fiery and dramatic one moment to deeply introspective and abstract the next.

Working lock-step connected with his friend bassist Charles Flores, also Cuban-born and classically trained, the two have come up with a dreamy, atmospheric set that at times swings carefree with lift-off Latin energy and at other times digs deeply into introspection and reverie.

The result is a four extended composition album packed with musical and mood twists, turns and surprises that move from high drama, to the existential to the celebratory. The title tune was a spontaneous improvisation that the two experienced, virtuosic musicians consider a not to be duplicated near-miracle. At least they haven’t dared to try.

At times Mr. Villafranca hovers over but a few keys while Mr. Flores bows his bass in long shuddering lines ripping the time/space continuum. At other times the two show their virtuosic chops managing never to appear arch or pretentious. The music moves with ease between a classical and jazz feel, ending with an elegant Bossa Nova.

Villafranca has played with Pat Martino, Jon Faddis, Billy Harper, and Wynton Marsalis, among others, while Flores, a Grammy Award winner, has played with Arturo Sandaval, Paquito D’Rivera and others, as well as being a member of Michel Camilo’s trio.

Watching the two work together at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space during the summer of 2010 when this was recorded, or more recently in Rahway, New Jersey’s Fazioli Piano Loft demonstrated two gifted individual musicians, but more importantly made obvious the musical and personal bond between the two that yields a musical abundance not every duo can produce. You'll hear that throughout this record.

While the lively, hard-walled performance space produced a challenge for engineer Duke Markos, he’s managed to capture superbly to 96k/24 bit digital, using four mikes for the stereo mix and but one for the mono, the full, sensuous sound of the Fazioli Pianoforti F228 Grand Piano and Mr. Flores’ “giant cello.” When Flores plucks, it hits with near wrecking-ball force. When he bows your room will shudder.

While the duo played and recorded a long set, the producer wisely chose to keep the sides relatively short in order to produce the greatest dynamics and cleanest path for the half-speed mastered cutting stylus directed by Sound-smith’s Peter Ledermann.

The stereo version offers greater lateral spaciousness, with the piano stage right and bass stage left, producing a picture similar to the one on the back of the jacket, but the mono edition produces a more visceral punch. You can’t go wrong with either one, but if you have a dedicated mono cartridge, I suggest the mono.

Funding for the collaborative project came from  Miyajima Labs phono cartridges and Robin Wyatt, the American importer.  

An original production that’s easy to recommend to any jazz or classical music lover.

When asked to provide a quote about the record shortly after it was issued, I wrote:

"Classically trained Cuban jazz duo unleashes deep, fiery elegance on a limited-edition, 'purist' production separately miked for mono and stereo editions. A sonic and musical treat cut ½ speed by Soundsmith's Peter Ledermann and pressed on 180-gram vinyl at RTI. Step away from the usual audiophile fare into a more adventurous but no less pleasurable musical world created by these best friends whose tight musical connection seems almost telepathic."

Now that I’ve had a chance to spend more time with these records, I’m sticking with that.