Aaron Aranita Eastbound – Connection

ConnectionIf, remarkably, there may still be a few astute listeners around the world who, when told of the leader of this project, still ask the question: “Aaron who…?” the answer becomes eminently clear in the fine music of this double disc package. Truth be told, the discerning cognoscenti of fine musical art and to the really knowledgeable and worldly-wise musician, Aaron Aranita has been recognized as an artist of the first order for more than three decades – a virtuoso on an array of saxophones – from his principal melodic instrument, the soprano to the gravitas of the baritone [and everything in between]; and like the saxophone, a master of the bass clarinet, a range of flutes and an authentic multi-instrumentalist who plays piano, bass guitar and percussion.

But thus halo that surrounds his instrumental capability obscures a greater truth and this is that Aranita is one of the finest revolutionaries of orchestral music, making huge advances in structure, harmony, melody and – most dramatically – in rhythm, investing every form with inexhaustible potential for expression. In fact he has – using uncommon ingenuity – refined the orchestral sound of Latin Jazz with the unique blend of deep feeling and elegance manifesting a perfect, Clare Fischeresque synthesis of form and substance.

The Eastbound double-CD project – entitled Connection  (2022) – has come an opportune moment in time, which marks a reunion with Aranita together with Anthony King and Tim Gutierrez, original alumni of the Eastbound band from 30 years ago, plus a stellar cast of other musicians. The music here is more ambitious in its orchestration than may have heard from Aranita before and really allows this sterling ensemble to show off their skills. The result is that you get performances of real character and bite, with Aranita’s innovative orchestral timbres emphasized to occasionally startling extremes sustained by a masterful phraseology; sometimes by deepening mystery and often lifted by rhapsodic dénouements.

As an instrumentalist Aranita is a master of Romantic self-expression. His performance on the array of reeds and woodwinds, percussion instruments, bass guitar, and his pianism is all marked by the kind of luscious, expressive warmth that speaks volumes of his romanticism. Musically he is an introvert and a miniaturist, infusing compositions and orchestrations with an intimacy and emotional intensity which can only be described as the “poetry of feeling.”

But Aranita is also an experimental composer, exploiting the full potential of the instruments he employs to express is musical vision. This is also the strong suit of possible influences such as Clare Fischer and Paul Winter. Moreover, what marks Aranita’s compositions and orchestrations out as uniquely his own is the way he decorates a simple phrase not as ornament for ornament’s sake but as the expression of deeply felt emotion. Thus in his music, instruments and orchestrations become one.

The orchestra [or ensemble’s] role morphs gently as the music advances in theme and exposition of theme in gentle waves, with each wave rising as a soloing instrument is ordained to take over the flow of the music and guide it to a new sonic crest before tumbling into the collective cascade that revisits the theme, stating it with brand new expression as if from a wholly different conceptual perspective.

This is exquisitely true of each of the eighteen pieces on the double-CD set flowing over with artistic devices and gestures making for an embarrassment of musical riches from end to end. The repertoire is flagged off by 8-5, which is based on a melody created from an eight-note bar, followed by an eloquent five bar harmonic exposition of the melody, redolent of the beautifully articulated vibraphone played by Thomas Mackay.

This is followed by the ethereal-sounding piece, A Dream of Tomorrow, in which Aranita’s soaring soprano saxophone leads the ensemble through a series of choruses, entwined by Thomas Hamasu’s cheekily discordant bass lines. A Penumbra is a hypnotically slow cha-cha-cha that melds into a polyrhythmic inferno, constantly tapping at the hull of the melody, testing its soundness, and cheering the instrumentalists on with the beguiling tempo of the congas, timbales, bongos, guiro and drums. Cascading arpeggios by Aranita bend and sculpt phrases, which whip and curl with artful logic around Brent Fischer’s mesmerizing and radiant vibes.

Capricioso Cateretê delivers on its title in the grand manner: it is typically intense and virtuosic in nature and is scored for an array of multi-layered instrumental voices with Aranita’s flute occupying the high and lonesome range, held together by the steady rattle and hum of snare drums, hissing cymbals and rumbling bass.

The rhythmic momentum is temporarily slowed down and tempered by the tender, balletic Memórias De Amor, with its profusion of higher-pitched instrumentation making for a melodic line reminiscent of a songful arabesque where the soprano saxophone floats above all else. The transcendent musicality is followed by the mad rush to the head of Frevo Intangival, metered by its double and triple time dashes, which are parenthetical and light up the harmonic changes that they so cleverly interrupt and embellish. Then comes the cooling and polyrhythmic Moon Shadows, lined with silvery notes and phrases that ebb and flow from the alto and bass flute, as Adel Cardoso’s airy guitar lines and the other instruments bask in the sensuality of lunar caress.

Buy the album on Aaron’s website.

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