Departure-- Felipe Salles

Felipe Salles continues to grow as a player, composer, and arranger, and Departure may be his most accomplished recording to date. On his fifth CD, the Brazilian-born Salles plays tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, and bass clarinet, along with his core trio of pianist Nando Michelin, bassist Keala Kaumeheiwa, and drummer Bertram Lehmann, plus trumpeter Randy Brecker for three tracks and violinist Laura Arpiainen on another. The vibrant music incorporates jazz, Brazilian, Latin, and Classical influences, including Bartók and Schoenberg. Each of Salles' nine compositions and arrangements possesses a completeness, with no loose ends or unnecessary tangents, that provides the absorbed listener with a sense of fulfillment.

Salles' compelling arrangement of the title tune, "Departure," finds him gravitating from tenor to bass clarinet to flute with overdubbing, and Brecker playing expressively both in ensembles and as a soloist. Kaumeheiwa's bass ostinato adds drama to the piece. Salles' wailing, undulating tenor solo leads to the reprise of a theme that recalls the best of the Miles Davis-Wayne Shorter collaborations of the '60's and '70's, sans piano in this case. Kaumeheiwa's bass motifs are again an essential ingredient for "Seagull's Island," in tandem with Michelin's robust piano. Salles' tenor unveils the swirling extended theme, and he offers up an assured, pulsating solo after a brief but effective bass interlude. Michelin follows with a more serene, reflective take on the material that nonetheless simmers with passion. Salles inserts catchy thematic hooks periodically that tie it all together. "Béla's Reflection" is introduced by Michelin's piano, and then the haunting melody is portrayed by Salles' soprano, with each musician conveying the controlled abandon of Bartók. Bass and piano engage in a rubato dialogue before Kaumeheiwa produces a driving cadence to launch Salles' pure-toned, dancing solo. The selection concludes fittingly with a dash of dissonance.

"Maracatu D'Orleans," with a beat that blends Brazilian maracatu with a New Orleans Second Line shuffle, plus a theme as played by tenor and trumpet that reminds one to some extent of Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance," is a track that cooks from start to finish. Brecker's solo is typically artful, outgoing, and technically polished. Salles' ensuing statement juggles rising and tumbling lines that entice and excite. An insistent bass/piano vamp frames Lehmann's dynamic drum improv, and next comes the thematically and rhythmically irresistible reprise. Michelin's pensive opening precedes Salles' moving reading on tenor of the plaintive ballad "Awaiting." The pianist's variegated comping elevates the impact of Salles' openhearted solo, and Kaumeheiwa's resonant punctuations anchor the performance as a whole. For "B's Blues," Salles initial tenor outburst is succeeded by a bass ostinato and then the rhythmically energetic theme. This segues into a second, more ominous section before a reversion back to theme and variations by Salles. Michelin's light touch injects luster to his generally impressionistic improv, in contrast to Salles' unrestrained excursion with its outcries and overtones. Lehmann's roaring drum exertion over a bass vamp is only stilled by Salles' condensed thematic recap.

As Salles' tenor plays the angular theme of "Schoenberg's Error," it shifts from tempestuous to calming. Kaumeheiwa's bass work and Lehmann's drumming are exemplary here, and Michelin's piano spot alludes to the atonality of Schoenberg. Salles' declaration lucidly expands on the thematic content with a fervent eloquence. After a reprise, Michelin states his case with a sparkling vitality prior to the leader's brief resolution. The stunningly beautiful "Adagio Triste" allows Salles to display his ability on flute, as well as his grasp of Classical forms. His lustrous lyrical development is supported harmonically by Arpiainen's rich violin. Michelin's solo is touchingly tender, after which flute and violin reengage to close out this memorable work. Salles' tenor and Brecker's trumpet articulate the compelling hard bop head of "Natural Selection" with streamlined verve, in addition to devoting time to an appealing Latin vamp. Salles' improvisation prances and darts with a fiery command, while Brecker's is soothingly sinuous to start, only to reach stratospheric heights at it finalizing peak. Michelin's exercise is all things Latin rhythmically and in its assorted figures. Tenor and trumpet revisit the vamp to cap yet another exhilarating number.

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Scott Albin