RIYL: PALO!, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Stan Kenton
Modern Jazz can go one of two ways: It is something that “old people” listen to, or it is something that your are floored by. For Montreal, Quebec’s Afilao, they fall into the latter category. Launched at the 2016 Montreal International Jazz Festival, the septet have recorded and released Macizo, their first official studio recording. While only ticking off three songs, there is a bevy of substance for the listener to shake their hips to.
The group describes themselves as novel and vigorous, rooted in a progressive approach to Timba’s aggressive, syncopated and acerbic tumbaos (riffs), bloques (punches) and mambos (ostinati). This is apparent on all three tracks. At their best, they roar off the line, throbbing and spooling like a highly-tuned engine. At their worst, well, lets just say they’ll still be the leaders of the pack. The bands timbalero, Michel Medrano Brindis, isn’t afraid to hit his instrument like he’s trying to down an opponent in a prize fight.
Trumpeter Lex French is able to hit all those brilliant high notes, and is capable of sounding warm in the lower register as well. For the most part, the band sound much better when they stray from “typical” Afro-Cuban Jazz, and spread out into more experimental jazz, particularly on EP opener “El Yoker.”
Despite lacking a kit drummer, the band makes up for it in spades. Utilizing skills behind the aforementioned timbales from Michel Medrano Brindis, cajón from Hanser Santos Gómez, and congas from Arturo Zegarra, the group has masterful percussive licks. When those elements are tied to bassist Juan Pablo Carmona’s licks and Nestor Rodríguez Vilardell tenor saxophone playing, you get a real sense of the amount of rumination that can exist on a Afro-Cuban jazz record. We get the most on “Trastorno Timbero” where there is an interesting push and pull happening throughout the track. That said, with Gabriel Evangelista as band leader and pianist, we hear some great arrangements and some fantastic piano leads here.
Ultimately, if you are looking to cut your teeth on something other than litany of Indie sub-genres, perhaps this will refresh your palate. Wonderful Afro-Cuban jazz tunes, heavy on percussion and sweet Gillespie-esque trumpet leads will pull you through this listen and cause you to hit the play button over and over.