Néstor Torres, Del Caribé, Soy! Latin American Flute Music.
Music by Tania León, Miguel del Aguila, Néstor Torres and Rafael Hernández Marin.
Naxos Records, 2017
Flute Journal readers will remember our report http://flutejournal.com/your-brain-on-improv/ on the effects of improvisation on the physiology of the brain, and therefore on the performance of music.
I made a presentation about this phenomenon at the 2009 NFA convention in New York. One point that seemed to really strike home to the group of flutists and flute teachers was that I could cite a list of jazz artists who have made high-quality classical recordings but I could not make a second list, of classical artists who have been able to produce convincing jazz performances, or even improvise successfully. As of this writing, there is still no-one on the second list but the first one continues to get longer. The latest addition is from Latin Grammy Award winner Néstor Torres.
Rare as this is, in Torres’ case it should come as no surprise. His training was at the Mannes School of Music and the New England Conservatory as well as at the Berklee College of Music. So far, his career has included 14 solo recordings, ranging from jazz to Latin to popular genres. His Grammy nominations – and one award – are for Latin jazz, and his collaborations have been mainly with jazz and Latin artists such as Gloria Estefan, Herbie Hancock, Tito Puente, Michael Camilo, Paquito D’ Rivera and Arturo Sandoval, but he has also appeared in performance with the Cleveland, Singapore and New World Symphony Orchestras. Overall, he states his purpose as “. . . transcending his role as a jazz flautist to that of an agent of change through crossover multi-media productions, compositions and performances.”
In keeping with this goal, it was only a matter of time until Torres produced an album that falls squarely into the classical category. With this release, that day has arrived, although it could only have been produced by an artist with a dual jazz/classical — perhaps a triple, jazz/classical/Latin — background. Producing another performance of Haydn or Debussy would have been a limited accomplishment. What Torres has produced is something that brilliantly captures the contemporary music aesthetic, but with an essentially Latin-American dimension. This is a hard thing to do, but in the name of expanding the horizons of the flute repertoire it is absolutely worth doing. And Torres has carried it off brilliantly.
Torres had long been nurturing the idea that his next project should be in the classical genre. This impulse was substantiated when he took the idea to producers Julie Williamson and Julio Bagué. It was they who introduced Torres to the work of two composers with Latin-American roots, Tania Léon from Cuba and Miguel Del Águila, originally from Uruguay, each of whom has built a distinguished career in the US around their own vision of where Latin forms and genres fit into contemporary music.
Léon contributes two pieces to the program, del Caribe, soy! (Caribbean, I Am!) which blends Caribbean rhythms and bird calls with intricate passages from the pianist — the composer herself on the recording — and extended techniques and sections of improvisation from the flutist, all of which Torres executes with grace and aplomb. Léon’s second piece, which ends the recording, is a a lighter and gayer conga dance-like piece that evokes a Cuban festival atmosphere while, again, calling on improvisational skills from Torres and his rhythm section: Jorge Luis Sosa, piano, Ranses Colón, bass, Reinier Guerra, drums and Edwin Bonella, percussion.
The second item on the CD is from three-time Grammy-nominated composer Miguel Del Águila, whose work has been performed by hundreds of orchestras and other ensembles, and recorded on over 30 CDs. He has written Miami Flute Suite specifically for Néstor Torres, with three movements built around Latin genres from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay — chôro, tango and milonga — with a touch of jazz and some passionate writing that is alternately tender and fiery. Again, the composer is at the piano.
To balance out the program, Torres includes three other pieces, one of his own, Marta y Maria that “. . . blends Aramaic scales with Western European romantic and contemporary musical styles, with Latinate improvisations built around afro Caribbean rhythmic patterns,” and transcriptions of two sweet arias from the opera Cofresi by beloved Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández Marin.
Recorded live in 2015 as part of the St. Martha’s Yamaha concert series in Miami, and beautifully performed by the multi-talented Néstor Torres, this collection makes a major contribution to the contemporary Latin music genre in general and the flute repertoire in particular.
To facilitate this, the two pieces written expressly for this performance/recording have been published by Peer Music Classical. Each of them presents definite challenges to both flutist and pianist: Miami Flute Suite has sections in 5/16, 9/16 and 13/16, for example, while Tania León’s piece requires improvisation in several places. Both of them require some feeling for South American genres as well as some facility with contemporary Western performance practices, although they can also be used to develop these skills, so the rewards to those who persevere with them are considerable.
Both of these pieces, as well as the recording, belong in any serious conservatory or music school library. The whole package, even though beautifully produced, is very reasonably priced so it should be within reach of most music schools. The flute repertoire is extensive but there is little material of this quality or of this importance. The tendency for many composers is to lose the spirit of their own music tradition under the weight of the language of contemporary music. The pieces in this collection avoid this trap and move Latin American Flute Music forward. They demand our attention.
Review by Peter Westbrook. Sections submitted to Flutist Quarterly and used by permission.
Nestor Torres plays Miami Flute Suite, Mvt. III (Milonga) by Miguel Del Águila:
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