(June 21, 2011)
Like the emotions entangled within, it has been said many times that music is a universal language. It is the way in which artists can find their sound wholly understood and appreciated from New York to Stockholm. Jazz is a sound that has transcended both borders and barriers to become a mainstay in the international theater. And as such, it often engages in these whirlwind affairs with myriad other sounds. But in a world chock full of cultural fusion and synthesis, many of these musical marriages result in the birth of the most unsavory twins known as dissonance and discord. With Ninety Miles, however, this is simply not the case.
Conceived in Havana, Cuba, the Latin-tinged soundscape of Ninety Miles will be appropriately released on the heels of the recent decision to remove the Latin Jazz category from the Grammys. While I do not consider this album to be an explicit statement against the act, its undeniable relevancy speaks volumes to a timeless cultural tradition within the art. This album is laced with elements of many different geographic locations, a fact evident almost instantaneously. But above all, it is simply great music. And that, I believe is the most important aspect of this release. While we all enjoy to wax poetically on the obvious cultural implications and relevancy of this sort of project, it ultimately goes back to the music. And on this note, the trio of Stefon Harris, Christian Scott, and David Sanchez do not disappoint.
With such a diverse palette, the sounds emanating from Ninety Miles are often best described rather than defined. At times, I feel as if I’m listening to Roy Ayers thanks to the colorful styling of vibraphonist Stefon Harris. There are also moments in which I wonder if I’m listening to modern day compositions from Eddie Palmieri with the spirited rhythms laid down by drummer David Sanchez. And given the warmth with which trumpet player Christian Scott delivers every note, I cannot help but reflect on the late Clifford Brown. When these elements are combined with Cuban pianists Rember Duharte and Harold López-Nussa, we are introduced to an explosive collection of genre-bended compositions that manage to achieve success in both function and form.
The album opens with “Nengueleru,” the perfect introduction. Steadily, the accompanying artists begin to build upon the foundation laid out by the lone pianist presented at the song’s opening. As the track continues, the theme begins to take shape as the artists run with a rhythm that is upbeat, but never overwhelming. Later on, the album takes a turn to the ambient with the ballad, “The Forgotten Ones.” On this track, the collective strips down the sound by highlighting the talents of Harris and Scott creating the aura of a cinematic dream sequence. This is only a momentary departure for the group as they speed up the pace on the vibrant “Brown Belle Blues.” Despite its title, the song is anything but solemn. Instead, the track carries the sort of Latin undertones presumed by the album’s backstory. With exotic piano melodies and fiery trumpet overtures, the song encompasses the feel of late night Havana. Effectively utilizing each artist’s strengths, this is, perhaps, my favorite selection. The album closes with “La Fiesta Va,” a song that carries a certain rhythmic buoyancy and sensitivity displayed in the opening feature. With a consistently upbeat rhythm, the track presents a fervor that is never overpowering, keeping with an overall laidback aesthetic that is understood by album’s end.
Download Ninety Miles – “Nengueleru” for free!
There is an incontrovertible allure to Ninety Miles. The idea of individuals coming together, disregarding cultural differences, for the sake of artistic appreciation, is a storybook concept. Despite all of this, I am most impressed with the music itself. The music created by these gentlemen is a project defined by the relationship between sharp artistry and keen musical insight. Whether you’re in Havana, Cuba or New York City, looking for a Latin influence or traditional Jazz motifs, this is simply good music.
A full-length documentary about the project will be released in Summer 2011. More details here.
Ninety Miles will be appearing at SOBs in New York on June 21st. Get your tickets here.