Drift is the sophomore release from the Seattle-based Latin-jazz/world music trio Duende Libre. It builds on the elements displayed on their self-titled debut, which was one of my favorite recordings of 2017.
Duende Libre is composer and bandleader Alex Chadsey, who plays piano and keyboards, Farko Dosumov, electric bass and voice, and Jeff “Bongo” Busch on drums and percussion. They are joined on a few of the album’s seven extended tracks by Seattle-based singer and multi-instrumentalist Chava Mirel.
Though based in American and Latin (especially Cuban) jazz, Duende Libre’s music makes some significant departures, even more so on Drift than on their debut. Chadsey is trained in jazz and classical music with a music degree from the University of Michigan, and he has honed his chops (and his montuno) in salsa bands in the Puget Sound area. On Drift the trio (plus Mirel) also incorporate elements of Jamaican and Turkish music, in addition to mellow West Coast jazz, Eastern European modes and more.
I’ll cut to the chase first, though. The penultimate track “Kiki,” which is the most solid Afro-Cuban jazz piece of the bunch, is turning into one of my go-to tracks of the newborn summer of 2018. It’s just got that instant, deep Cuban groove, and a melody that will stick in your head all day. But it surprises with its time-changes, not something that’s expected in Cuban son. Turns out the piece is a tribute to the music of Cuban cuatro virtuoso Kiki Valera Alarcon and his family’s long-standing band La Familia Valera Miranda. It’s a thank-you for the time Valera invited Duende Libre to join him for a collaborative concert.
“We did one gig together and I was so inspired by that encounter,” Chadsey says. “I wrote the piece for him. We are drawing on clave, but trying to do something different. I wanted to know what would happen if I took traditional figures and chord progressions from Cuban son, which is usually in four, and experimented with changing meters. It creates a whole different feel and has been a fun challenge for us to play.”
Fun to listen to, I’d add.
Next in line is the gritty, funky “Subway,” a frenetic-then-peaceful piece written by Dosumov, who leads with his distinctive electrified bass sound. This one, with its bounce and sway reminds me of a subway trip I took from Brooklyn to The Bronx up the length of Manhattan on the day of the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
The album also features a nice cover of Chick Corea’s “Spain,” on which Chadsey moves from piano to electric piano, accompanied by some brilliant scatting from Mirel; a choro-adjacent tribute to Brazilian composer and pianist Jovino Santos Neto titled “Choro”; the ethereal opening track “Zephyr,” also featuring nice work from Mirel; the mellow title track that wouldn’t be out of place on a ’70s CTI soul-jazz release, with some outstanding bass lead work from Dosumov; and the Turkish-influenced final track “Bosphorus.” Busch is as integral to the trio’s sound as both Dosumov and Chadsey, but I find his percussion and drumming truly excel on this final track, keeping the rhythm on the straight-ahead track while the other players explore subtly Eastern melody and harmony.