The multi-member music collective known as Dominican Jazz Project officially ended a drought of more than five years last month when it released its new album, Desde Lejos. Roughly translated, the title means From Afar. The group’s sophomore album, it is a mostly positive presentation, even with one notable negative. That negative – the lack of background on the songs and English translations for the Spanish-language songs – will be discussed a little later. On the positive side of things, the album’s featured arrangements make for one of its most important positives. They will be discussed shortly. The songs’ sequencing works with the arrangements to add even more appeal to the presentation. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the album. All things considered, they make the 73-minute presentation well worth hearing, even with its one, lone negative.
Dominican Jazz Project’s sophomore album, Desde Lejos is a mostly successful new offering from the up-and-coming collective. Its success comes largely through its featured musical arrangements. The arrangements are not just another group of Afro-Latin compositions. Though, there is plenty of influence from said realm. For the most part though, the arrangements blend those influences with more mainstream Western jazz leanings to make the whole. In other words, audiences get more than what they might otherwise expect throughout the course of the record’s nine songs. ‘Pero Aun no es el Fin’ (‘But it’s not the end yet’) for instance, blends some modern bebop leanings with the group’s familiar Afro-Latin influences to make for one of those unique presentations. Sandy Gabriel’s work on saxophone pairs with Mayquel Gonzalez’s work on trumpet, Stephen Anderson’s work on piano, and everything else in the song’s instrumentation to make the whole a fully immersive work throughout.
On another note, ‘Ritmos de Bani (‘Rhythms of Bani’) offers audiences more of a blend of fusion with the group’s Afro-Latin jazz leanings. This combination makes for its own unique approach, too. Gabriel once again leads the way on sax while the multi-part percussion and piano lines add their own unique touch to the whole. Bassist Ramon Vazquez leads the way in this song while Anderson builds on the foundation with this subtle work on piano. Guy Frometa adds his own touch here as he keeps time through the arrangement. The whole makes for yet another example of how the blend of cultures and musical influences makes these arrangements so engaging and entertaining.
Those who want something purer get just that in the form of ‘Como un Rayo Ciego’ (‘Like a Blind Ray’) – probably it was meant to translate to ‘Like A Blind Man’ – offers a more pure Latin presentation through most of its nearly six-and-a-half minute body. At the same time, the use of the harmonica hints at an easy listening jazz influence. It blends so well into the mix, though. The result is a song that is just as unique as the others examined here and the rest of the album’s entries. This song also leads into a discussion on the album’s one negative. That one negative is the lack of translations and background on the songs in the album’s liner notes.
The liner notes do offer audiences some background on how the album came about. North Carolinians will be interested to learn that a couple parts to the album were recorded here in the “Old North State.” Other than that though, there is no background explaining the inspiration and/or stories behind the songs. Instrumental music (whether jazz, rock or otherwise) serves itself well to have explanations about the songs. That is because it serves to help listeners better connect to the music. Not having that information keeps audiences’ appreciation for music at a solely superficial level. On another note, ‘Como un Rayo Ciego’ is sung entirely in Spanish. It is just one of the songs whose lyrical content is presented in such fashion. The problem is that there are no English translations to reference in the liner notes. The result here is that audiences are left to try to figure out those songs by the arrangements’ moods. That is simply not enough. Now as much as this overall matter detracts from the enjoyment of the album, it is not enough to doom the record. It just would have really enhanced the album’s presentation.
Moving on from the record’s lack of needed information, the songs’ sequencing works with the arrangements to add more engagement and entertainment to the album. Looking through the course of the record, it is clear that there was a clear course taken in the sequencing. The only real reserved moments in this record come in the form of ‘Como un Rayo Ciego’ and ‘Una Mas.’ The two songs serve as good break points to ensure listeners’ engagement and entertainment. In other words, they counter the constant energy of the album’s more up-tempo works to make sure things change up just enough. The result is that in fact listeners will find themselves constantly engaged and entertained. Keeping that in mind, the sequencing shows a clear place and purpose in this record. When it is considered along with the diversity in the songs’ arrangements, the whole makes the album well worth hearing, even despite its one unavoidable negative.
Dominican Jazz Project’s sophomore album, Desde Lejos is a positive new offering from the up-and-coming collective. Its appeal comes in part through its arrangements. The arrangements are appealing because they are more than just another grouping of Latin and Afro-Latin compositions. In fact, many of the arrangements blend those influences with mainstream Western jazz influences to make each work unique. While the arrangements are positive, the lack of any background on the songs along with the lack of English translations for the Spanish-language songs detracts from the record’s enjoyment to a point. It is not enough to make the album’ a failure, though. It just would have been nice to have had that extra element. The album’s sequencing rounds out its most important elements. That is because it is clear in listening to the album, that there was a clear direction in the songs in regards to their energies. The clear placement of the album’s more reserved songs serves well to keep the album’s energy stable, and in turn engaging and entertaining in its own right. Each item examined here is important in its own right to the whole of this album. All things considered, they make the album a work that is well worth hearing. Desde Lejos is available now through Summit Records.
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