I make no secret of my affinity for the ill-fated guitarist Gábor Szabó, whose magnum opus was the brilliant Mizrab album, before which he issued a number of excellent slabs kind of in the Charlie Byrd vein. Of those, his work with Louis Kabok, on Dreams and elsewhere, was absolutely delicious. Well, Fernando Ulibarri exhibits many of Szabó's uncanny slo-tempo traits, rich deep sonorities, and compositional style. Every note he plays is clearly well thought out, nothing wasted, no more added than exactly what's needed to express each passage. Szabó was that way as well.
More, he chose an ensemble as deceptively expressive as he. Keyboardist Jim Gasior tends sometimes in a Zawinul-ish direction both in comping and in leadwork, Cycle Tune a great exposition of both, with Ulibarri in unusually high speed near the end of the cut. Then Gasior gets crystalline in Pasajes, a sharp contrast that seizes and freezes the heart and mind in the staccato moments before breaking onto a wistful pavane just as Ulibarri bursts in.
Don't take that as concrete, though, as elsewhere he seems a combination of Chick Corea and Bill Evans among several other influences. Of crucial importance to the atmospherics is the rhythm section of Josh Allen (bass) and John Yarling (drums). These guys support the front voices so damned adeptly that not a degree of hue is missed, emphases perfect, ornamentation spot on, and attention to detail oft daunting. Still, the lead voice is Ulibarri's though he edges no one out. His work is resonant, gently abstract, unassuming while irresistible, and never for a moment out of step with itself. If you think about it, guitarists more than any other instrumentalists, DO have a tendency to overplay their hand. Not so with Fernando. He's like a Paul Desmond in that regard, so decisive yet so breezy…and, when the moment warrants, nimble and searing.
I have to envy Floridians, as the band is apparently installed somewhere around Hialeah / Miami Springs (at least, Ulibarri's Facebook page shows that as the current gig location), and this kind of music makes for an unparalleled live listening experience. I caught Oregon a few times, had my heart stopped by Towner & Abercrombie on their Five Years Later tour, supported by Wayne Johnston in a dazzling set, and, to this day, those gigs remain among the peak concert experiences of my life (and I've seen Hendrix, Fripp & King Crimson, the Moody Blues, Pat Metheny, Ralph Towner solo, and many ne plus ultra performances). From each of those, I walked away and was unable to even think, so stunned was my overwhelmed brain. You don't have to blast the walls out to have your soul riven, all you have to do is edge sideways into such terrain as Ulibarri and company so masterfully delineate. Were I still down thataways (I lived in Sarasota for a while in the 70s), I'd be in the back of the dive, in the dark, every night, isolated from the rest of the audience, letting this haunting creativity seep into my marrow, an opium of pure art. Of course, I wouldn't be worth a damn the next day at work, still dreamy-eyed and bewitched, but I think I could live with that.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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