Gustavo Cortiñas explores Latin American history, culture, and resilience on Desafío Candente | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Gustavo Cortiñas explores Latin American history, culture, and resilience on Desafío Candente 

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click to enlarge Gustavo Cortiñas

Gustavo Cortiñas

Zack Sievers

The third release by Gustavo Cortiñas, Desafío Candente (“Incandescent Defiance”), is an epic set of jazz and spoken word inspired by Las Venas Abiertas de Latinoamérica (“The Open Veins of Latin America”), an iconic series of historical essays by Uruguayan author and poet Eduardo Galeano. The Chicago-based drummer and composer invited more than 30 musicians and speakers from 11 countries to appear on the recording, in addition to his usual sextet: double bassist Kitt Lyles, pianist Joaquín García, reedist Artie Black, trumpeter Drew Hansen, trombonist Euan Edmonds, and guitarist Matt Gold. The 14 tracks on Desafío Candente address milestones in the sprawling unfolding of forces that have shaped Latin America—colonialism, slavery, imperialism, neoliberalism, and revolution. The tracks are presented as chapters; each opens with an incisive spoken-word segment in Spanish, Tzotzil, or Nahuatl (subtitled in English in the accompanying videos), then segues into cinematic, muscular music that invites reflection. The ensemble’s rhythms provide rich accompaniment for the spoken word, and on most tracks the horns add their voices to the instrumental narratives. “VII. Combustible Humano” (“Human Fuel”) begins with words about the first enslaved persons from Africa to arrive in Brazil, and then ambling, horn-laced Brazilian rhythms build dramatically to a violent, explosive finale. “X. Los Caudillos Campesinos” (“The Peasant Leaders”) riffs on Galeano’s text and the words of Chiapas insurgent leader Subcomandante Marcos, with horns issuing laments within a riveting track that seems driven by the anger arising from the economic and social frustrations of Latin American revolutionaries. “III. Pachacuti / The World Upside Down” builds on a Nahuatl account of the last days of the Aztec empire, starting with an ominous military march interspersed with notes that evoke an orchestra tuning up in preparation for a performance. The horns then layer into a chaotic, mournful finale, heralding bloodshed and the destruction of ancient regional cultures and civilizations by European colonizers and their armies. Despite Desafío Candente’s despairing explorations of the tragedies throughout nuestra historia, the album left me with a sense of triumph—it ultimately feels like a celebration of the many cultures and peoples who came together, survived against all odds, and continue to create beauty today. The closing piece, “XIV. Un Mundo en que Quepan Muchos Mundos” (“A World in Which Many Worlds Fit”), is a lush soundscape that creates the impression of stepping into a primeval jungle. Rife with elements of jazz and sounds from nature (including what seem to be frog croaks), it summons visions of new beginnings and possibilities ahead.   v

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