Album review…Emilio Teubal, “Música Para Un Dragón Dormido” (Brooklyn Jazz Underground, 2013)

Named for the zodiac sign that he and his newborn child share, with his third album, Música Para Un Dragón Dormido (“Music for a Sleeping Dragon”), Emilio Teubal offers an evocative and personal vision for the fusion of Argentinean music and modern jazz. Supported by his long-time trio and some high-powered sidemen, Teubal’s album promises to reward and delight both audiences with intelligent, intricate, and entertaining music that demonstrates considerable compositional depth and potential for his young career.

Música Para Un Dragón Dormido, Brooklyn Jazz Underground BJUR 037, 2013. Personnel: Emilio Teubal, piano, Korg SV-1; Sam Sadigursky, clarinet, tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, and flute; John Hadfield, percussion; Moto Fukushima, six-string electric bass; Erik Friedlander, cello; Satoshi Takeishi, percussion, cajon. Tracks: Un Simple Objeto; The Constant Reinventor; El Tema de Ludmila; El Acróbata; Un Dragón Dormido; La Espera; Nikko; La Perla; Milonga Para Terminar. Recorded May 21-22, 2012, at Sear Sound Studios, New York, NY.

From the beginning of the album, Teubal shows his significant compositional and arranging skills with his careful attention to instrumental timbre, counterpoint, and narrative flow. On “Un Simple Objeto,” Teubal employs cellist Erik Friedlander in multiple roles—in all of which he excels—providing both a melodic voice and rhythmic accompaniment. The acoustic sound of the cello counterbalances perfectly with the electric bass’s treble-heavy timbre, performed by Moto Fukushima. Fukushima’s playing is similarly multi-functional, characterized by supporting melodic lines weaved into the rhythmic and harmonic foundation he provides. (Teubal cites the chacarera as a key influence here.) A high-powered and awe-inspiring percussion break in the middle of the tune provides an excellent interlude and launching pad for the return of the song’s main themes. The overlapping polyphony that drives Teubal’s music derives its force and effect from the musicians’ absolute rhythmic precision, enhanced even further by their sensitivity and intonation in unison passages. As the composition progresses, Teubal utilizes subtle variations to enliven and refresh previously heard sections, where the smallest melodic or harmonic change re-engages the listener who will revel in the excitement and surprise of colliding melodic themes. The track ends with a skilled clarinet solo by Sam Sadigursky—with the welcome textural addition of Friedlander’s comping—in which the ensemble continually pushes him to successive higher levels of intensity.

“The Constant Reinventor” opens as a quiet, contemplative ballad punctuated with dramatic tutti figures that will remind those familiar with Argentinean music of popular tango, especially of Astor Piazzolla’s masterful ensemble (there are also elements of the bordoneo). Teubal’s first solo on the album features simple, but eloquent phrases, short motives developed in sequence, and firm grounding in the song’s groove. Once again polyphony and multiple melodies infuse the composition with forward motion: at this early point in the album, a strong group dynamic already has emerged through the constant trading of roles and interweaving of instruments. Dedicated both to Teubal’s niece and Luis Alberto Spinetta (one of his musical influences), “El Tema de Ludmila” is a traditional Argentinean groove updated, driven as much by Teubal’s comping as by the rest of the rhythm section. The improvisations of Sadigursky and Teubal are a study of contrasting approaches to modern jazz adaptations of local music: Sadigursky (on tenor saxophone) sails over the groove, superimposing new harmonies and rhythmic structures layered on top of the already polyrhythmic accompaniment, whereas Teubal’s sits solidly within it, demonstrating a complete internalization and command of the song form. The song’s coda and vamp out is highly organic, less arranged but just as engaging, energetic, and enjoyable as the rest of the composition.

Teubal once again shows his arranging and compositional chops on “El Acróbata,” which features Friedlander’s masterful playing and the careful manipulation of timbral variation. Amid a wash of accompaniment from Teubal’s Korg SV-1 and a rich overlay of melodic voices, Friedlander plays the haunting and delicate melody pizzicato (by plucking the strings) before performing one of the album’s most intensely beautiful moments—an unaccompanied arco (bowed) improvisation that carries the ensemble without interruption into the next track, “Un Dragón Dormido.” Sadigursky shines here with an energizing improvisation. This track also features the first solo moments for Fukushima, in which his dexterous playing serves as a transitional moment to reintroduce the song’s groove before it launches off—propelled by more tutti punctuations—into a controlled accelerando to the end. “La Espera” provides Fukushima a needed and much welcomed feature: first performing the melody with clarinet and (acoustic) piano backgrounds, then establishing the 6/8 groove, and adding another excellent improvisation. Teubal’s piano playing is another highlight of the track, in which he builds flow and structure into his solo, adding exciting rhythmic displacements and countermelodies into his comping later in the track.

Listeners should apply themselves happily to parsing out the complex, overlapping polyrhythms of “Nikko,” (written for ECM artist Nik Bartsch) another composition set in the 6/8 meter but divided unequally over a four-measure pattern. This insistent and off-kilter groove is one of the album’s most exciting and rewarding. In his improvisation, Teubal once again shows his mastery of the rhythmic structures, while breaking free at points, elaborating and enhancing it in one of his best solos on the album, supported once again by compelling background writing. He trades a series of cadenzas with Sadigursky on tenor sax before launching into yet another memorable coda that features overlapping polyphonies, Friedlander’s sweeping countermelodies, and an explosive percussion solo at the end.

The album ends with two more contrasting pieces. “La Perla” once again features Fukushima, whose lyrical playing in highlighted moments is just a small indication of the adept linear playing he executes from underneath, girding the foundation of the entire album. A subtle variation in the groove at the coda, driven by Sadigursky on bass clarinet now, re-engages the listener, building what began as a beautiful melody into a climactic conclusion of rich polyphony. Finally, “Milonga para Terminar” (see the video embedded below) presents the group in a different light: the playing here is noisy, raw, and raucous. Showcasing the impressive percussion work of John Hadfield and Satoshi Takeishi, the milonga (an Afro-Argentinean song form) closes out the album perfectly: amid the apparent wild cacophony is a careful mix of timbres and a balance of free improvisation and a composed, repeated melodic figure that adds depth and artistry to this romp.

In Música Para Un Dragón Dormido, Emilio Teubal manages variation and polyphony very artistically and shows sophistication as a composer, arranger, and proponent of both Argentinean and modern jazz idioms. While the album’s songforms and flow will sound more familiar to fans of Argentinean music and the harmonies and improvisational language will resonate stronger with jazz fans, ultimately Teubal has produced a highly accessible and entertaining album for both audiences. The richness of his compositions derives in part from subtly mixing and altering repeated lines and figures among the musicians who all equally participate in playing the music’s melodies, accompaniments, and grooves. (Those wanting to hear more of Teubal as a pianist should also check out his album, Un Montón De Notas.) Teubal’s highly original music relies but also elaborates on Argentinean tradition, offering in Música Para Un Dragón Dormido an inventive and diverse range of compositions executed by sensitive and talented musicians who contribute their individual voices while fulfilling the ensemble roles in which Teubal has cast them.

[Thanks to Emilio Teubal for providing examples of the chacarera and bordoneo, and to Jason Byrne of Red Cat Publicity.]

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