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04/17/14

Fabian Almazan
Rhizome
Blue Note/ArtistShare

Rhizome is too diverse to be called a concept album. But it is a single arc, a deep personal reflection on our present moment. A rhizome is a giant plant system in which individual plants above ground share a single subterranean stem. For Fabian Almazan it is a metaphor for how humanity is all connected. His album is an affirmation of human brotherhood within a painful awareness of its continuous violation.

His work with Terence Blanchard has revealed him as a brilliantly expressive pianist. But the complexity of subject matter on Rhizome requires many additional resources: a rhythm section of bassist Linda Oh and drummer Henry Cole; a string quartet; seven-string violinist Ronit Kirchman; the guitar and haunting voice of Camila Meza; a synthesizer. Almazan’s achievement is how he arrays all these contrasting textures and colors into a powerful, conflicted portrait of our time.

The title track was motivated by the massacre of 26 people including 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Against a dark background of quietly seething strings and the wordless cries of Meza, Alamazan’s elegiac piano and Oh’s solemn bass probe for hope in their mourning. “Jambo,” with its violin panic and drum violence, is a visceral depiction of contemporary strife. The only standard, “Stormy Weather,” belongs. It is beautifully desolate, hesitant single-note piano lines within questioning sighs by the strings.

But sometimes Almazan’s search for faith discovers moments like “Hacia el Aire,” a stirring, ascendant commingling of piano and violins. “A New Child in an Old Place” comes from a visit to New Orleans, when Almazan saw children playing within the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina. Like the rhizome, the children are a metaphor for regeneration.

This album is about so much more than Almazan’s gifts as an improviser and instrumentalist, but it is still a rush when he cuts loose, like on “Espejos,” and unleashes his own piano invention in wave upon wave within the larger narrative.

Originally published in April 2014
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