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Willy Rodriguez: Seeing Sounds

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Latin GRAMMY-winning drummer, percussionist and bandleader
Latin GRAMMY-winning drummer, percussionist and bandleader

There is no real ‘perfect time’ for a debut recording, especially when the debutant has long-since graduated in the proverbial, living, breathing university of musical life, having spent several years playing with the best musicians. However, this first recording by the drummer and composer Willy Rodriguez is, indeed, perfectly timed. Its release comes at a time when Mr Rodriguez is well on his way to the top of the don’t-touch-me-pinnacle of percussive craft. Moreover, the audacious title of the recording – Seeing Sounds – would suggest that he has been peering around musical corners, following pathways that opened his mind to unprecedented melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic interrelationships.

Some drummers are averse to being referred to percussion colourists; the sacrosanct nature of a musician highlighting his art behind the drum-set is something of a badge of honour. This is important as the drum-set did not exist before William Ludwig created it to display the high-art of Warren “Baby” Dodds – to all intents and purposes, the inventor of the art of jazz drumming. But Black American music has come evolved enormously since those thrilling, halcyon days.

Willy Rodriguez: Seeing Sounds [album cover]
Willy Rodriguez: Seeing Sounds [album cover]

The rippling, tumbling rhythms that bolstered the danceability of music were born of historic and culturally diverse styles such as swing [from Sid Catlett and Jo Jones…], bebop [Stan Levy, Max Roach, and Roy Haynes…], the thundering polyrhythms of the Elvin Jones era. All this led to the bewitching asymmetrical art of the interminable avant-garde era [Milford Graves, Rashied Ali, Andrew Cyrille, Tyshawn Sorey…] Let us not forget the collision between the African Americans and the Afro-Caribbeans, the Brasilians, too numerous to name [Airto, Paulinho Da Costa…] Cubans [Chano Pozo, Tata Güines, Carlos “Patato” Valdés…] and numerous congueros from Caribbean islands [from Othello Molineux to Giovanni Hidalgo…]

Its hard not to envisage a blurring of artistic horizons, which makes an exciting case for Mr Rodriguez’s extra-sensory perception and from whence the title of this recording is born. [Besides which Latin-Jazz aficionados have cross-sensory ways of showing appreciation for experiencing sound: [taste] ¡Sabor! and flavour [“salsa”]. Of course, Mr Rodriguez’s is making a strong and elegant case for his sonic-eye [to invent a word, of course, for his singular musicality] and relate his art to what – in the world of painting – would be evocative of the late work of artists such as Matisse, Kandinsky, and even Klee and Calder.

Expressly in the context of Mr Rodriguez’s recital you can now make painterly melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic connections in songs such as the magical timelessness of Guani, featuring the intrepid Dave Liebman on soprano saxophone and the tribute to Liebman himself – The Infinity of Your Love. On both these tracks trumpeter Jason Palmer is sensational too. But this does not stop there. Saxophonist Hery Paz, who appears to come from a similar inspirational place as Mr Rodriguez turns in a bewitchingly elegant performance on Fixed Goal penned by the great Ornette Coleman.

The interplay between Mr Rodriguez and inventive atmospheric sound designer Tehn Vega is quite breathtaking on the darkly humorous The Red-Tailed Hawk is Going to Eat Your Babies. One would be remiss without recognising the brilliant pianist Leo Genovese, who though almost inscrutable throughout this recording [especially on Praise, the tribute to Ralph Peterson and Bob Gulloti], manages to put an excellent – characteristically iconic – harmonic imprint on this music. Of course, this quietly sensational recording belongs to Mr Rodriguez, who puts his mark on his exciting original compositions and on the varied fare designed to express – with poetic touch – the sparkling cascades of rippling music on an album that intrigues as it dazzles, from start to finish.

Deo gratis…

YouTube Playlist: Willy Rodriguez: Seeing Sounds

Music – 1: Beyond the Struggle; 2: Roy’s Masterplan; 3: Where There’s a Will There’s a Way; 4: Guani; 5: Fixed Goal; 6: Waltz Dilemma; 7: The Infinity of Your Love; 8: The Red-tailed Hawk is Going to Eat Your Babies; 9: Un Pequeño Desahogo; 10: Self Love; 11: Praise.

Musicians – Leo Genovese: piano; John Hébert: bass [2 – 4, 7, 11]; Kenneth Jimenez: bass [1, 5, 6, 8, 9]; Willy Rodriguez: drums; Jason Palmer: trumpet [2 – 4, 7, 11]; Hery Paz: saxophone; Dave Liebman: soprano saxophone [4, 7]; Tehn Vega: sound design [8].

Released – 2024
Label – Coucs Music
[willyrodriguezmusic.com]
Runtime – 46:50

Based in Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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