by Nolan DeBuke
Argentina, born Emilio Solla, is not a new name on the scene. Still, he is one that has continued to advance every opportunity of composing and playing with a broad swath of like-minded musicians whose only goal is to uplift each composition put forth by Solla. His latest effort Puertos: Music from International Waters with his brand-new big band, the Tango Jazz Orchestra recently garnered a GRAMMY nomination for Solla’s composition “La Novena,” for the Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Capella category. The album is an entirely conceived large ensemble recording with a centric focus on Latin rhythms and instrumentation. The Tango Jazz Orchestra is a robust 17-piece big band utilizing the uniqueness of a bandoneon, blending Latin American sounds and jazz. Solla is not new to the GRAMMY opportunity. In 2015, La Inestable de Brooklyn, which featured some of the most influential jazz players in NYC (John Ellis, Ryan Keberle) titled, Second Half (2015) was Nominated for a GRAMMY Award in the Best Latin Jazz Album category.
The entire album is constructed with incredibly persuasive writing. Its authenticity is what sparks this release to its higher purpose and foundational weight. “La Novena” is an excellent choice for a GRAMMY Nomination. It has a distinct Argentinian aesthetic. Julien Labro thoughtfully accentuates the charts on bandoneon. The romance of Argentina is legendary from its glaciers to its stunning natural wonders spanning from the Andes in the north to the tundra of Tierra del Fuego in the south. Solla has purposefully chosen to portray his music through the waters that connect us all historically, but most importantly, musically. When listening to “La Novena,” you are transported. It’s as if each note reflects the beauty of exploration. Seamlessly Solla uses complex harmonies with beautifully orchestrated passages incorporating the flavoring of Argentina while connecting the influences of New York and its cosmopolitan transcendental constructs.
Another Solla original that I could sink my teeth into is “Buenos Aires Blues” (to New Orleans). The composition begins with an impromptu warm-up, that segues to a throbbing soli line by trombonist Noah Bless, trumpeter Alex Norris, baritone sax is provided by Terry Goss and a textural enclave from drummer Ferenc Nemeth, punctuated by Solla on piano, and bassist Pablo Aslan. The commentary between the players is an ever-flowing cascade of meaningful contrapuntal conversation, that effortlessly moves from driving rhythms of modern jazz escapades to voicing reminiscent of the Big Band era, highlighting the curvatures of polarities between Buenos Aires and New Orleans and the depth of each cultural lineage. Once again, Julien Labro puts forth a worthy solo, this time on accordina.
It would be easy to start with the tracks that feature special guests’ pianist, Arturo O’Farrill on “Llegará, Llegará, Llegará” (to Montevideo) or harpist Edmar Castañeda on “Allegrón” (to Cartagena) both certainly highlight masterful performance by these stalwart jazz musicians. The secret recipe, though, is in Solla’s writing. That is where the crème is the sweetest. Solla’s use of counterpoint, varied rhythms, and dramatic meaningful passages elevates Puertos: Music from International Waters to an epic listening experience. One to be savored time and time again.