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The Black Butterflies Play Dreams 12/9

The Black Butterflies Play Dreams 12/9

While this is just the debut release from The Black Butterflies, a group led by 27-year-old saxophonist Mercedes Figueras, veterans would do well to prick up their ears and take note. The Butterflies deftly blend the Latin rhythms of Figueras' native Argentina with free and post-bop noodling and tantalizing natural-world percussive elements, into full, invigorating music that sprouts, twines and flourishes over the 63-minute span of this entirely satisfying album.

The title track kicks off the record. It is a relaxed, comfortably humid piece that sways from a melodic opening into more forceful strains on the wind of Figueras' sax and swingingly persistent conga thumps. The piece never reaches--nor even strives for--the anthemic quality the title might suggest. Instead, the labor sweats happily, singingly under the sun. Appropriately, the tune--and, thus, the album--takes flight on the crystalline wings of Dan Tepfer's echoing, solo keyboard statement. It's appropriate not only for fashioning a sly musical equivalence to the band's moniker, but by spotlighting in Tepfer one of the group's, well, keys. Tepfer's polished electric tones lace the Latin rhythms and strings them up on a brightly modern line that still never smoothes the crisp, pulsing edges of the traditional beats. As mentioned, it's this facile navigation of divergent musicAl Fields and the ability to rake loose from the passage a lively new hybrid that makes listening to The Black Butterflies so palpably intriguing. Ears laugh at their good fortune.

"Afro Blue," with its inevitable rekindling of saxophonist John Coltrane's spirit, also sparks the ghost of Albert Ayler, the twining sax statements of Figueras and her (even more?) experimental mate, Tony Larokko, rendering the Coltrane vehicle as a mighty, squealing, squawking, melodically impassioned conversation between the lost giants of the avant-garde. The saxophonists pause for a breather midway through, revealing front and center the rolling-thunder percussion the listener's body already knew was there. Tepfer contributes another light yet zinging solo over the drums before backing off to give conga man Bopa "King" Carre, percussionist Fred Berryhill and drummer Kenny Wollesen even more space to break loose and rumble.

The first of Figueras' two original pieces on the album, "Pipi's Blues," follows "Afro Blue" with the type of jumping cadence saxophonist Joe Henderson might have favored with the mid 1960s support of pianists McCoy Tyner or Andrew Hill. Only here Tepfer remains electric, adding the swirling bluesy punch of organist Jimmy Smith, while also not refusing to jut off on Larry Young-like angular departures.

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