Album Review of
Puertos: Music from International Waters

Written by Joe Ross
March 9, 2020 - 12:42am EDT
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This album’s cover photo of the port of Buenos Aires, circa 1920, emphasizes how important tradition is to composer/arranger/pianist Emilio Solla in his own creative life. Yet he is also forging new contemporary sounds that fuse the elements of tango and big band jazz. Born and raised in Argentina, Solla is the descendent of immigrants from Spain and Ukraine. Each piece on this album is dedicated to a port that played a seminal role in the development of jazz, tango or Solla’s musical creations. Thus, we hear dedications to ports in Cuba, Uruguay, Angola, Argentina, Spain, Columbia and the U.S. It’s an interesting thematic concept that recognizes tango as an authentic Argentinian roots music that was an urban product of a melting pot of European immigrants, locals of Spanish descent, blacks and natives.

Don’t expect this album to have music reminiscent of Rudolph Valentino, Carlos Gardel or Astor Piazzolla.  While Solla honors the elegant musical traditions of his past and upbringing, the orchestra creates rhythmic and passionate sounds that will have widespread popularity and appeal among jazz aficionados. The group’s emotional magnetism and sensuality are perhaps best conveyed when we hear acoustic instruments tastefully spice up the brass-centric arrangements. Despite its large cast, I was a bit surprised that the album has no guitar or violin that were so crucial to traditional tango ensembles. While the trumpet and saxophone players are virtuosic, it’s Julien Labro’s bandoneon or accordion in pieces like “La Novena” and “Buenos Aires Blues,” as well as guest Edmar Castaneda’s harp (in “Allegron”) that provide just enough sentimental, nostalgic flavorings to build a bridge and continue to remind us of Solla’s traditional inspirations. Solla's own expressive piano soloing is heard in “Andan Luces,” a pensive, reflective piece. This project has plenty of jazzy interpretive twists, all pulled off with aplomb.  (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)