A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by young NYC-based guitar player and composer Luis D’Elias. He had read and enjoyed my interview with Sofia Rei and resonated with The Music and Myth’s approach to music as storytelling. He asked if he could send me his ensemble’s debut record, Origenes y Destinos for review. I’m always excited to hear new music, especially from young or debuting composers, so I was looking forward to playing the record. I didn’t make any promises for a review, however, since I only write about the records I truly find engaging. I thought I’d play it while cleaning up my office.
About thirty seconds in, I was back at my computer writing to Luis, telling him to expect an article soon. That is how captivating this band’s music is from the very first notes. The Ensemble consists of composer/guitarist Luis D’Elias, pianist and composer Evan Waaramaa (credited with writing two of the record’s ten tracks), Josh Plotner on sax (and other instruments), P.J Duffy on bass (electric and acoustic) and Brendan Pajak on drums. Various collaborators, including vocalists Lizje Sarria and Marianella Rojas, contribute their talent to create an album of fascinatingly dynamic diversity. The compositions sound forceful and fresh, but are also amazingly polished for a debut work.
“Vietos del Dur” starts with a soft guitar, the feel of which took me back to Brill Frisell’s first chords on John Zorn’s The Mysteries. Then, about thirty seconds in, something extraordinary happens: the listener is met by the melody of a spellbinding violin, courtesy of guest collaborator Stefano Melillo, and invited into a lush soundscape of profound musicality, where various instruments are ebbing and flowing through a variety of sounds of Venezuelan influence as they take turns surpassing each other in playfulness.
Everything comes together perfectly in this opening track which immediately establishes the band as a highly skilled and imaginative group of musician and Berklee schooled composer D’Elias as a careful storyteller, whose understanding of musical rhetoric belies his young age. It’s a truly superb and well-chosen opening track that sets the bar very high for the rest of the record. Unfortunately, it’s just a bit too high for the following song “Noches de Lluvia” which, in spite of some very entertaining solos, feels rather generic and falls short of maintaining the incredible magnetism established by the first track.
At this point I have to express the one small criticism I can bring the record throughout. In a move indicative of their youth, the clearly gifted players sometimes focus just a bit too much on showcasing their virtuosity and do so at the expense of the overall musical cadence and narrative cohesion (think Al Di Meola’s first few records). However, this minor setback does not affect the overall enjoyment of the record and is entirely expected from a band at this early stage in its musical journey. In fact, this reminds me of a particular review I received for my debut novel, Mindguard, where a reader stated: “Much of the writing displays that wordy, needlessly complex over-eagerness common to debut writers”. This is a homologous situation.
The flow is quickly reestablished with the enchanting “Onda” (The Wave), a splendid track benefitting from expert vocals courtesy of Lizje Sarria. The Colombian musician brings a touch of jazz and helps shape a highly addictive track which could comfortably linger in the Top 40s in various countries and genres, and likely will. The dynamic of the track is exceptional, with Sarria’s spot-on vocals transitioning from pensive and surreal to sexy and effervescent with great ease. In fact, I am very impressed with this singer’s delivery, so expect to see more of her in The Music and Myth in the future. The band does a great job of shadowing the mesmerizing vocals. Nowhere is their chemistry more evident than on this track. If I were them, “Onda” is the song I would use to promote the record.
Next off is “Dance, you’re on TV” a fun composition by pianist Evan Waaramaa, notable especially for its high-energy playing and a groovy saxophone solo courtesy of Aaron Gratzmiller. “Descendant”, another Waaramaa composition, softens the tempo with its laid-back surfer groove, a well-timed change of pace that demonstrates skilled track placement (a quality that is lamentably rare even in the work of seasoned musicians).
In fact, D’Elias stated in the press release: “The main aesthetic that the album tries to capture is that of a story about music itself. It’s about my own musical origins and where those can go as they interweave with everything I learn and everyone I meet.” This anecdotal approach is evident both in the compositions themselves as well as their placement in the body of work, as the record unveils its deepest layers in extended start-to-finish listening sessions.
“Merengue Pa’l Camino” and “Curiara al Mar” at times fall into the same trap as “Noches de Lluvia”, but are both “saved” by extremely careful timing. In case of the former, Melillo’s violin enriches the track in a way that just cannot be overstated while the latter benefits from smooth-sounding bass and drum solos that invite the listener to hit “repeat”.
Next off is the title track, in my opinion the highlight of the record. It starts off with D’Elias’ guitar accompanying the delicate, youthful voice of Marianella Rojas, who sings (originally in Spanish):
The road, without your steps, is no road
The days don’t begin if your eyes are closed
The future doesn’t lie in the past
But you can’t get there if you don’t see how much you’ve walked
Every road has to begin with just one step
Victory is most appreciated when you know you’ve fought
And hope is never lost
If you believe in yourself
Wherever you’ll go
You’ll soon find out*
*translation provided by the composer
This gorgeous introduction, that lasts about two minutes, is absolutely fantastic. I played it about five times before I even moved on to the rest of the track. I couldn’t help but think how good it would have sounded as the theme for season two of True Detective, instead of Cohen’s humdrum spoken-word snoozer. After the powerful intro, the song blossoms into a joyful folk dance, then takes the listener through a series of thoroughly enjoyable, sometimes overlapping solos before coming full circle with a vocal epilogue. A splendidly crafted track and a nice sample of Nella Rojas’ talent.
Intensity increases with “Tiembla Tierra I” and Pajak’s ominous drums that dictate a more aggressive pace and foretell the powerful ending with Venezuelan protesters screaming their disgruntlement as the track breaks down into pure rock. “Tiembla Tierra II” picks up where its predecessor left off. It’s a powerful and unexpected ending, with chants of “The earthy is trembling!” whose intensity and sequential relevance remind me of the ending to 2004’s Macadam by Romanian funk band Blazzaj, a similar record in scope, if not in sound.
With an extremely fortunate combination of talent, intelligence and exceptional musical education, The Luis D’Elias Ensemble have created a true work of culture. In Origenes y Destinos, the band has a debut record that receives a standing ovation from The Muisc and Myth!