Photo: Anna Webber (Courtesy of artist)

Jazz’s Alfredo Rodríguez Finds Inspiration in Hope on ‘The Little Dream’

Alfredo Rodríguez chooses positivity, giving us a feeling to aspire to, a feeling to work toward together instead of another reason to worry.

The Little Dream
Alfredo Rodríguez
Mack Avenue
23 February 2018

Few artists explore their style with both the thoroughness and skill that Alfredo Rodríguez has over his still-young career (Quincy Jones picked him out of the Montreux Jazz Festival at the tender age of 21 and has worked with him ever since). With each album, he pulls out a new palette and finds new inspiration. From the start of the fourth album, The Little Dream, Rodríguez makes his latest source of inspiration clear: it’s hope.

The notes that open the album’s first track, “Dawn”, are bright piano chords twinkling at the nimble touch of Rodríguez’s fingertips, soon joined in unison by a joyful vocal chorus. In true jazz spirit, the track becomes a frenzy of drums, keys, and guitar, but it ends once more in those sky-blue notes with a clarity that sets the tone for the entire album.

Following “Dawn” is the title track, glittering with a faster melody, once that sparkles and soars with an airy optimism; on “Silver Rain”, beauty pours down in a rush, a perfect scattering of instrumental sound over a zephyr of wordless voices nearly too soft to hear. “Bloom” is the laid-back aftermath, rolling forward on gentle cymbal fills into the more typically Cuban rhythms of “Dance Like a Child”.

In fact, Rodríguez cites the spirit and potential of children as a major focus of his music on The Little Dream, particularly in the face of DACA uncertainty. Unlike in the hot and complex The Invasion Parade or shadowy Tocororo, The Little Dream has simplicity at its core. Rather than sacrificing displays of Rodríguez’s outstanding technique in favor of easy listening, though, this simplicity highlights how gifted he is as a composer and arranger. It takes a careful ear to maximize the straightforward, more so than to cram as much noise as possible into a sonic space and call it jazz. Rodríguez has that ear and uses it here on both his original creations and on covers of classics; the familiar “Bésame Mucho” soothes but still sounds fresh, clean, and vital.

From that point forward, The Little Dream lives in an idyllic twilight, blue, black, and violet, alight with stars and fireflies. “Tree of Stars” is full of flourishes that spiral upward before the tender tones of “World of Colors” float back to Earth. “Alegría” dazzles, a musical firework in contrast to the echoes and empty spaces of “Moonbeam”. At the very end of the album, “De Rua Pra Rua” features Munir Hossn’s furious bass work and the peak of Michael Olivera’s percussive genius behind a foregrounded piano line that moves between sublime and playful, letting the song’s moments of fullness give way to some of the deconstruction that Rodríguez has long known how to create so well.

Music, in response to times of trouble, can take many different forms. There’s no lack of grief in the world today, and many recent new releases reflect that. Rodríguez has the capacity to bring us melancholy, as previous records have shown. With The Little Dream, though, he chooses peace. He chooses positivity, giving us a feeling to aspire to, a feeling to work toward together instead of another reason to worry. Above all, though, Rodríguez chooses music, a medium few modern-day composers do with as much eloquence as he does.

RATING 8 / 10