Sunday , May 19 2024
A bottle of ouzo, a Cuban cigar, and 'Old Waters New River' playing—you couldn’t ask for much more.

Music Review: The Spiros Exaras/Elio Villafranca Project – ‘Old Waters New River’

Once again demonstrating the universal appeal of jazz, Old Waters New River the new album from transplanted Greek guitarist Spiros Exaras and Cuban-born pianist Elio Villafranca, not only manages to blend the talents of two musicians from different parts of the world, but affords them the freedom to combine their individual musical traditions in creative ways. The album’s title is in some sense a metaphor: the artists now transplanted to New York have indeed taken old waters and poured them into a new river.

The duo has put together a smooth contemporary set of jazz originals, along with a couple of arrangements of traditional pieces and one composition by Cuban piano great Bebo Valdez, “Rareza Del Siglo.” They open with a Villafranca arrangement of the traditional Habanera “Tu,” the dance form made popular in Cuba in the late 19th century. The album’s title song, their own collaborative composition, follows. It is an exciting illustration of their cultural blend combining Greek rhythms and an Afro Cuban chant at the end of the tune.

Exaras’ compositions include “Deer’s Leap,” inspired by the happy leaping of his young daughter, and “Keeping the Promise,” which had been recorded in a different approach on an earlier album. He also has an arrangement of the traditional “My Sweet Canary,” again combining Greek and Cuban rhythms in a smooth jazz context. The set ends with his almost mystical “Do You Hear Me?”

Villafranca’s “Cogelo Suave,” old-waters-new-riverwhich we’re told means something to the effect of “take it easy, chill,” was inspired by his remembrance of famous jam sessions led by some of the fine Cuban pianists. His “Gitnos” is a testimony to what he has discovered about different cultures; in this case he is working with what he calls the “spirit of gypsy music” put in a “more contemporary format.” Finally his “Shalom” stresses his wishes for harmony and peace he finds in the concept the term represents.

A bottle of ouzo, a Cuban cigar, and Old Waters New River playingyou couldn’t ask for much more.

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