Jazz developed as a fusion of musical concepts from around the globe. Essentially a distillation of African rhythms intermingling with European harmonies, much of the genre’s growth stemmed from further cross-cultural blending. Dizzy Gillespie and Antonio Carlos Jobim demonstrated what Latin and South American rhythms could add to the sound. Chick Corea made strides showing what Spanish musical culture could add to jazz’s already cosmopolitan bent, but it was merely one side of his musical personality. Enter New Bojaira, a quartet dedicated to fusing the nuances of jazz harmonies and flamenco rhythms.
Zorongo Blu, the group’s debut album, exploits the commonalities between both musical worlds, specifically jazz and flamenco’s respective complexities in improvisation and rhythmic nuances. Opening track “El Demonio Llama a Mi Puerta” is a heavy blues number with a sauntering bass line and sinewy solo from guest musician Randy Brecker. Flutist and singer Alfonso Cid takes the first solo, vocalizing an improvisation that crafts a melody with the pinpoint subtleties and microtonal pitches inherent in flamenco song. A lesser ensemble would falter, but New Bojaira’s unity and Cid’s sensitivity display how well these two musical worlds can merge.
Comprised of Cid, pianist Jesús Hernández, bassist Tim Ferguson, and percussionist Mark Holen, New Bojaira are a deft fusion group masked as a traditional jazz combo. Throughout Zorongo Blu jazz and flamenco unite in a natural sensibility, almost as if the genres are interlocking pieces of a greater musical whole. The shifting grooves “La Africana” combines the two worlds without sounding forced or tense, allowing the group (with guest saxophonist Peter Brainin) to let the music speak for itself.
In some ways, flamenco and jazz seem like perfect bedmates. Cante jondo is a flamenco-specific concept, literally translated as “deep song”, referring to a moment when a singer is so entranced in their performance, so locked in and unified with the muse, that the performance becomes something else entirely, something holy. Guest vocalist Sergio Gomez hits such heights on “Farruca del Argel”, a sorrowful ballad that shows how much flamenco singers have in common with the likes of Billie Holiday or Sarah Vaughn.
Thelonious Monk’s seminal “Round Midnight” is reimagined as a tango, a traditional Spanish rhythm unrelated to the more popular Argentinian tango. The vibe is vastly different from the original–a light, uptempo take as opposed to Monk’s introspective ballad–and this refreshing reimagining makes it a high point of the record. Title track “Zorongo Blu” put’s Cid’s hypnotic vocals front and center, paying off with an ethereal vibe that emotes just as well as any trumpet or sax player would in the same setting.
Not every track dares to break genre conventions. “Green Room” is a straight-ahead swing/Latin number that would sound at home on Joe Henderson’s Page One. Nonetheless, it displays how adept and versatile the group is, how they can fit at home in multiple worlds without sounding like a parody of a distant genre. That is what makes Zorongo Blu stand out so well amidst the glut of soulless “world jazz fusion” albums tossed about every year. New Bojaira not only understands the nuances of jazz and Spanish music but also when–and importantly, when not–to use them. An excellent debut from a group of seasoned veterans with a unique musical objective.