If you don’t come from a jazz background (or at least a background of enjoying jazz) you might not find much to grab onto with Before, the debut album from San Juan, Puerto Rico quintet Joan Torres’s All is Fused (yep, that’s the whole name of the group. Is that name a pun on the jazz fusion genre? The world may never know). Then again, you might be surprised by how truly enjoyable some of this is regardless of your music pedigree.
Let’s start with the basics: Before is an eight-track instrumental record performed by five very talented musicians (a sixth, who adds another guitar to the mix, joins on two songs). Mostly it’s got a very brisk, even frantic composition that eschews “easy listening” labels. That said, I personally found the slower tracks – “Disbelief” and “Tragic End” – to be the most enjoyable; they’re incredibly effective at creating a moody atmosphere that doesn’t dominate your headspace. The other tracks are probably incredibly fun to watch in a live setting but didn’t really jump out at me on the record; they’re too intricate to provide background noise and a little too same-sounding to support some of their hefty run-times.
That said, even in those tracks there are things that very much stand out as exceptional. I found myself in particular paying attention to two of the group’s members. First is pianist David Ojeda, whose skill on the keys provides the opening notes for the entire album and never really lets up. My first musical love was Elton John, and I think that’s given me a predilection towards hearing people play piano really well. Ojeda certainly fits that bill.
Even moreso than Ojeda, though, props must go to drummer Fernando Garcia, whose background seems to be one part jazz and one part prog-rock. Garcia bucks a number of preconceptions about his genre by playing his kit like a monster, with full snare hits (not just brushes!) and lots of sharp, cutting toms. I found Garcia to be the star of the show; he’s both an excellent timekeeper and an exciting soloist, and every track had me wondering what he was going to do next. Perhaps the biggest standout for Garcia is “The Chase,” a song whose opening drums actually recall a group like Coheed & Cambria.
In the end, Before is a good record, but it’s not really for the uninitiated – in other words, it’s mostly exciting, vibrant jazz, but if that phrase doesn’t do anything for you, this might not be your album. An exception stands for drummers, though; even in a genre known for its demanding instrumentation, Fernando Garcia excels at propelling this record with his fascinating rhythms. And if you ever happen to be around a club where these guys are playing, well, it’ll probably be a good time.
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more