Wednesday, November 01, 2017

CD Review: Black Butterflies feat. Gato Barbieri - Luisa

The Black Butterflies ft. Gato Barbieri

Mercedes Figueras reveals a few different personalities on the alto saxophone. Sometimes she plays with a thick, brawny tone, preferring the horn's mid-range. A song later, she reveals a clear, crisp delivery normally heard in the work of a classical saxophonist. Her music has a festive, happy mood that acknowledges her South American upbringing. (Figueras hails from Argentina.) But there are moments on Luisa when she's ready to break off into some wild blowing, especially when she shares the front line with the late tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri. She also sings on the title track, in a whispered voice that almost sounds raspy and a bit spooky despite the heartfelt lyrics. The saxophonist covers a lot of ground here.

Figueras moved to New York in 2007, playing for a time with drummer Kenny Wollesen and vibraphonist Karl Berger. While there, she formed the Black Butterflies, which included both of them, along with saxophonist/percussionist Tony Larokko. For Luisa, recorded in 2013, the group invited fellow Argentinian Barbieri to stop by. The session marked a reunion of sorts with Berger, since he and Barbieri played together in Don Cherry's mid '60s group that recorded Symphony for Improvisers and performed at the Cafe Montmartre (which were recorded and are now available on ESP). He appears on three of the seven tracks.

The veteran tenor saxophonist picks up on the upbeat mood of "Gato's Hat," displaying his trademark vibrato, adding a few squeaks, perhaps unintentionally, which nevertheless energize the already vibrant mood. "Merceditas" begins out of tempo with a gritty tenor line before Figueras and the group joins in. The two saxophonists dance around one another, with Berger adding to the exotic quality by switching to melodica. The only setback is that the percussion section (Larokko, Wollesen and percussionists Bopa King Carre and Fred Berryhill) doesn't feel as prominent in the mix as they could have been.

Larokko switches to soprano saxophone to join Figueras in an infectious take on McCoy Tyner's "Love Samba," in which Berger also stretches out. The drum-and-sax man also kicks off the album with a brief take on the ancient "Hambone." Figueras' response to his lyrics make a little more sense once she segues it into the second half of the opening medley - Astor Piazzolla's slow, tango "Adios Nonino." It feels inappropriate to say it sounds sensual, since it was written in homage to the composer's late father, but it is. This track also features one of the best of Figueras' solos on the album, especially in the second half where she bends and blasts some tart notes. Another tango, "Por Una Cabeza" closes the album, with Berger's melodica serving as a good substitute for an accordion. This time, the percussionists make their way to the forefront too.

Figueras has relocated to Spain since Luisa was recorded, which might make this the final chapter of the Black Butterflies. If that's the case, considering that the three songs with Barbieri were his last studio recordings, they ended things on a celebratory note.

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