Review: JORODU – an exhaustive examination of creative identity

Seven years after his last solo release, accomplished drummer, multi-instrumentalist and educator Jose Roman Duque returns to the studio for what feels like his most personal project to date. An ambitious, meticulously crafted album, JORODU finds the composer in a state of deep introspection, carefully contemplating his musical path in pursuit of a new status quo.

Grounded in fusion, reflecting Jose’s affection for the 1970s and especially the work of Bill Bruford, the music incorporates influences from a variety of genres in a way that feels balanced and unintrusive, escaping the trap of settling into a dated formula. The song titles, all in Latin, contribute to the timeless feel of the album’s structure.

Playing keys and bass in addition to his signature drums, Jose reaches out to a number of collaborators to create a rich, vivid sound that leaves no tonal possibility unexplored. The end result is a record that feels complex and consistent, in no small part due to the impeccable work of Grammy-nominated producer and engineer, Erik Aldrey.

JORODU opens with “Fortuna Non Omnibus Aeque”, a catchy, upbeat piece that fluidly transitions between exquisite solos by Phil Sargent (guitar), Manu Koch (keys) and Jose on drums, but the mood promptly darkens in “Nulla Habeo Nomen”, where Jose’s authoritative drumming enhances the narcotic effect of guitarist Rodrigo Gamboa’s psychedellic sound. 

Built around the symbiosis between Jose Gallegos’ percussive piano and the ghostly wails of Jon Durant’s guitar, “Ubi Umbra Vivit” creates an aura of tension that lingers even in the more animated tracks, like “Verbum Dimissum” and “Ego Vade A Gades”, the latter featuring a superb performance by Phil Sargent on nylon-string.

To me, the uncontested highlight is “Victa, Iacet, Victus”. With Brazilian vocalist Beatriz Malnič’s haunting chant shadowing Javier Espinoza’s mournful bass, the lengthy, atmospheric track is a sublimely catharctic experience and one of the most memorable compositions in recent memory. 

Though pianist Jose Gallegos shines in the dynamic “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis, Tertius”, the song lacks the expressive quality of its predecessors and the album never regains its momentum, closing with the surprsingly tranquil “Ludo Duo” and “Amor MCMLXXX”. The former, a discreet, meditative piece constructed of nature-themed samples over the subdued playing of Javier (bass) and Jose (drums) feels out of place in an otherwise emphatic record while the latter, a short outro consisting solely of keys and samples courtesy of Jose comes off as unusually nostalgic given the album’s contemporary premise. In sequential listening, which is my preferred approach, the placement of the atypical pair creates the impression that the music is slowing to a halt, as if exhausting its evocative energy. 

Despite that, the final track’s symbolism is noteworthy. Concluding a 1970s-inspired work with a wistful ode to the 1980s sends a relevant message about the condition of the present-day musical environment, framing the narrative in a coherent, thought-provoking way.

A polished, well-rounded work resulting from an exhaustive examination of creative identity, JORODU stands out as one of the year’s best instrumental records.

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