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Manel Fortià: Despertar (Segell Microscopi)

A review of the Spanish bassist's New York Album

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Manel Fortià: Despertar (Segell Microscopi)
The cover of Despertar by Manel Fortià

The jazz art form depends on continuous renewal. In the new millennium, the European scene has been a major source of creativity and innovation in jazz. Despertar, with its resonances of flamenco, its elegant classicism, its emphasis on composition and arrangement, could only have come from a European jazz musician. Yet Manel Fortià intends it as his New York album.

Fortià is a bassist and composer from Barcelona. His colleagues here are Spanish pianist Marco Mezquida and French drummer Raphaël Pannier. Between 2016 and 2020, Fortià lived in New York. His nine original tunes have subtitles like “to JFK AirTrain” and “to Astoria.”

Fortià is also a romantic. His lyricism infuses every moment of Despertar and makes it feel like a suite. But the New York themes create contrast within this unity. “Espiritual (to Harlem)” introduces funk and gospel into the album’s prevailing impressionism. “Crescente (to Grand Central)” intensifies the energy.

Fortià mostly writes spare, haunting melodies like “Dormir” and “Aires de Libertad (to Prospect Park),” and subjects them to expansive yet meticulous development. He is clearly the leader of this trio, as his bass states themes and takes frequent powerful solos. His sound (vividly captured on the recording) is huge. But Mezquida is also brilliantly lyrical. His classical background is apparent in his sense of order. It is sometimes difficult to tell where notation leaves off and improvisation begins. With glistening single-note lines and swirling tremolos, Mezquida always goes straight to the heart of the beauty in Fortià’s compositions.

One of the most affecting pieces first seems like a departure from the New York theme. But “El Dia Después (to La Rambla de Barcelona)” is a response to a terrorist attack in Barcelona in 2017, when Fortià was far away, in New York. Perhaps it is distance that creates the austerity of its sadness.

Learn more about Despertar at Amazon and Apple Music!

Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.