Yasser Tejeda & Palotre
At its very essence, the word jazz is an imprecise term; although it implies a single stylistic approach, it rarely follows that path. People sometimes describe the term with a narrow-minded definition, but insightful musicians understand the reality of the situation. Jazz is a flexible and ever adapting term that has bent itself to meet the demands and expectations of each new generation. Musicians constantly find new rhythmic elements and performance approaches that reflect their cultural aesthetics, and they naturally bring those ideas into jazz improvisation. At every turn, jazz reflects history, but also remains forward-looking. Any intelligent jazz musician studies the music’s history and understands their elders; from there they integrate their lessons and move into new territory. It’s a word that implies certain musical elements, but is never limited by them. Most musicians see these defined portions as a foundation, and they liberally build upon the established musical elements. In it’s purest sense, the word jazz is all about contradictions and finding compromises between those contradictions. The ways that musicians balance these opposing forces becomes the essence of their voice, and it stands as the most interesting part of their music. Dominican guitarist Yasser Tejeda and his group Palotre thrive upon the apparent contradictions in the jazz world on Mezclansa, bringing opposing ideas together into an innovative mix.
Drawing Upon Merengue As A Foundation
The group keeps a close connection to their roots with a collection of songs that draw upon merengue rhythms as a foundation. Tejeda assertively places syncopated chords over a steady percussion groove on “El Merenguito” before the rhythm section flies into an up-tempo merengue for the main melody. As the rhythm section alternates between these two opposing feels, Tejeda constructs an engaging statement that combines catchy ideas with grungy flights of rock energy. The group falls back into the original vamp as percussionist Juamy Fernández Acosta stretches original conga ideas across the tense background. A straight-ahead guitar vamp becomes a polyrhythmic playing field as drummer Otoniel Nicolás enters with a powerful fill on “Mezclansa” before the group jumps into a merengue rhythm for contrast. Guest accordion player José Fermín vamps along with the band, opening into a flying improvisation full of quick runs that gives way to a solo full of strong themes from Tejeda. The band shrinks to the drummers, providing an opportunity for Acosta to demonstrate some inventive percussion work until Nicolás takes center stage with a virtuosic güira solo. A strong horn lick leads into a medium tempo reggae feel on “Ají Tití” before the rhythm section explodes into a double time merengue, pushing the horns players into a frenzied melody. The band leaps between these two worlds before trumpet player Rhoden Santos and tenor saxophonist Abreu Tejada take quick improvisations. A furious stream of melodic ideas serves as an interlude between solos as trombonist Patricio Bonilla eases into a creative solo, climaxing into a virtuosic statement matches the brisk tempo. Tejeda and the band find inventive ways to integrate merengue into their contemporary setting, finding arrangements that both showcase their unique voice and utilize merengue in a nature way.
Diving Into Rock And Jazz Rhythms
The band displays an expansive range with a series of tracks that dive deeply into jazz and rock rhythms. The band charges into a heavy rock groove with the power of a fusion band on “Lenyazz” before placing the melody over a bubbly funk groove. Tejeda turns on his wah wah pedal as he builds a distinctive idea, providing some modern phrasing that connects the seventies with modern music. His range and insight come into full view when the band leaps into a swing rhythm and Tejeda’s phrasing changes completely, reflecting the influence of bebop and swing players. The group calms into a modern waltz setting on “Tres Por Uno” as Tejeda reflectively shapes a melody around chordal ideas and lyrical phrases. Tejeda playfully prods the rhythm section with melodic ideas and short rhythmic attacks, eventually pushing them into a double time swing behind his masterful statement. Bassist Virgilio Feliz Jr. weaves clever lines as the band eases back into the waltz groove, relying on his keen sense of melodic invention to push his statement. A heavy layer of effects allow Tejeda to create a wall of electronic sounds over Edgar Molina’s didgeridoo on “Motivo,” before an frantic funk drum groove races towards the main melody. The group eventually finds the main theme as Tejeda bursts into an aggressive distorted line, only to be drastically contrasted by an understated bossa nova section. Tejeda plays upon these contrasts with a rock fueled solo that pushes the band to its limits before they all move into a free improvisation, ending the track on an ethereal note. The group travels through different worlds on these pieces, displaying a solid mastery of jazz, rock, and funk styles that stand evenly alongside their skills in a Latin Jazz context.
Finding Links Between Stylistic And Aesthetic Boundaries
Several tracks fearlessly blend various musical worlds together into a unique performance approach. Tejeda presents an unassuming guitar vamp that transitions into a melody over an 11 beat cycle on “Machacando” as the group skillfully shapes the theme with dynamics and textural colors. The rhythm section quiets behind Tejeda as he smartly builds his idea with an understated sense of presence that draws the focus onto his musicianship. The band revisits the main theme dramatically before Tejeda establishes a strong ostinato over the 11 beat groove for a rousing percussion solo from Acosta. Abrupt band hits provide an opportunity for the group to display dynamic range on “Coconut Grove” before the melody floats over a racing funk groove. Feliz reveals an exceptional set of bass chops as the furious groove speeds underneath him, starting with captivating melodies and building into some serious slap work. The group settles into a half time shuffle feel as Tejeda shares his clear passion for the blues until Acosta and Nicolás trade ideas over a frantic series of breaks. A rhythmic interplay between Tejeda and the rest of the band introduces a melody that floats 6/8 groove on “3 Palo Tó,” eventually finding a place over a palo rhythm. Tejeda displays a strong improvisatory voice here, developing a sparse lyrical statement into a roaring wall of sound through a logical and consistent path. The rhythm section displays some ingenious work throughout this track with powerful connections between seemingly disparate grooves and textural variation that both supports and interacts with Tejeda’s work. These pieces find Tejeda and Palotre looking at the music through a big picture view, finding links between stylistic and aesthetic boundaries while expressing themselves clearly and musically.
Proving That Jazz Is Alive And Thriving
Tejeda and Palotre play upon the tension of the jazz world’s multiple meanings on Mezclansa, finding a powerful voice in the space between contrasting elements. The group’s musical concept rips traditional notions of jazz to shreds as it moves aggressively between Dominican styles, hard-edged distorted rock and straight-ahead swing. While Tejeda’s writing finds logical artistic connections between each of these worlds, it never compromises the integrity of any one style. Tejeda includes a healthy dose of “authentic” jazz improvisation, but at the same time, there’s a lot of in your face, aggressive shredding on the guitar. It’s a concept that blends the old and the new, finding a bridge between tradition and innovation. As a guitarist, Tejeda brings a wide range of influences into his work. Modern jazz guitar masters such as John Scofield, Bill Frisell, and Pat Metheny play a big role in his approach. The presence of rock-edged players such as Jimi Hendrix and Scott Henderson also seems apparent as well as some straight ahead lyrical jazz artists like Jim Hall. Without a doubt, Tejeda has done his homework and he understands the guitar’s place in the greater spectrum of the jazz and popular music world. Palotre follows his lead throughout the traveling through each stylistic turn with easy mobility and consistently attacking the music with conviction. Tejeda show us the beauty of the conflicted nature behind jazz on Mezclansa, proving that the word jazz is alive and thriving, making its way into the modern world with a sense of vitality and strength.
By Chip Boaz
Palotre invigorates the bachata and merengue tradition with a post-Hendrix, post-Jaco, post-Bob Marley aesthetic that is positively brimming with hip ideas and an edgy electric quality while remaining fundamentally rooted in groove. Led by the exciting guitarist-composer Yasser Tejeda, a talent worthy of wider recognition, this accomplished band from the Dominican Republic carves out some fresh new territory on the modern jazz scene with Mezclansa
Bill Milkowski, Jazz Times