Marcos Varela is a name new to me, but a veritable household name among musical cognoscenti in New York and elsewhere in America. Moreover he is a bassist who emerges from the performance on San Ygnacio with great credit – imaginative, capricious, and lyrical, and with technique aplenty in reserve. At times on the disc he can be, let’s say, literal at the ppp, but he is also someone who likes to exploit the full dynamic range of the double bass, and on ‘Pepper’ plays some superb arco bass – almost imperceptibly at first – with the tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens.
I have to also admit that I did not quite grasp the main thread running through this record, and was even misled by the title of the disc into thinking it might have a ‘Spanish’ tinge somewhere. However, not far into the music I did realise that this is just a beautifully designed set of music; no fuss and no attempt to be cute with odd time signatures and other aural trickery. Just a classic performance, swinging gorgeously, that has been put together by a musician wise beyond his years, performed by a super constellation of stars with pianist George Cables, drummer Billy Hart and trombonist Clifton Anderson rubbing shoulders with young Turks – Dayna Stephens, alto saxophonists Logan Richardson and Arnold Lee, pianist Eden Ladin and drummer Kush Abadey.
Marcos Varela does well to showcase his musicianship both as a writer – with ‘Colinas de Santa Maria’ and ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ – and of course, his bass playing. In both there is a marvellous sense of poetry and architectural concentration that distinguishes him from many musicians of his generation. His extraordinary skill with a notoriously difficult instrument is brilliantly displayed not only on George Mraz’s ‘Pepper’ but on ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, a gorgeously cinematic piece. His intonation is deep and profoundly earthy. Notes are crisply enunciated and this makes his soli a feast for the ear, and with quicksilver ideas and radiant colours.
This is a record to cherish and Marcos Varela is certainly a musician and bassist to watch as his career has only just begun.
Track List: I Should Care; Colinas de Santa Maria; Mitsuru; Lullaby for Imke; Sister Gemini; Pepper; Red on Planet Pluto; Looking for the Light; Picturesque; Where the Wild Things Are (intro0; Where the Wild Things Are.
Personnel: Marcos Varela: bass; George Cables: piano; Billy Hart: drums; Logan Richardson: alto saxophone (1, 4, 8, 10, 11); Clifton Anderson: trombone (3, 5); Dayna Stephens: tenor saxophone (6); Arnold Lee: alto saxophone (2, 7); Eden Ladin: piano (2, 7); Kush Abadey: drums (2, 7).