Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Samuel Torres | A Dance For Birds

With a New Jazz Works Grant from Chamber Music America in his pocket (Torres holding the distinction of being a three-time recipient of the award), Latin Grammy-Award winning percussionist and composer from Bogota, Colombia, Samuel Torres has brought a long-time musical vision to life with his latest tour-de-force, A Dance For Birds. 

A Dance for Birds, to be released on May 24, is a nine movement suite composed by Samuel Torres, and expertly interpreted by his Latin Chamber Ensemble, featuring the Bergamot String Quartet. The suite of music tells a story of migration with the congas (the bird) as the narrator. Torres brings Afro-Latin rhythms, jazz and classical music together into a new realm, defying musical stereotypes and expanding the horizons of what chamber/classical music can be, and what Latin and jazz can be. Apparently, the sky is the limit for birds, and for Samuel Torres. 

A Dance for Birds was commissioned by Chamber Music America through the New Jazz Works Grant and premiered at Lincoln Center in September of 2023. The recording pays homage to Cuban rumba, American Jazz, Colombia’s Currulao and Cumbia, and contemporary classical music. It fosters a dialogue between the congas and the chamber ensemble, representing the shared African heritage between the Americas while dancing with European traditions. The suite is a reflection on traditions and cultural celebrations, emphasizing the strength derived from unity and collaborative expression while expanding into new musical landscapes. 

This symphonic journey, encapsulated in A Dance for Birds, resonates as a reflection of the migrant's story, immigration, and the associated struggles. Yet, in its essence, the interpretation of this musical narrative remains subjective. As Torres stated, "I want listeners to feel the joy of unity amidst the complexities of migration. Let the music take you on a journey, and discover the message that resonates with your own soul."

More on the music on A Dance For Birds:

In the hands of Samuel Torres, a much-sought after collaborator who has worked with the likes of Yo Yo Ma, Paquito D’Rivera, Chick Corea, Tito Puente, Lila Downs, Angelique Kidjo, Marc Anthony, Rubén Blades, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Bridget Kibbey, and his country’s own international superstar, Shakira, the Congas are taken on profound journey in sound, encapsulated in the initial movement of A Dance For Birds, “From Stillness.” The subsequent movement, "Horizons Take Wings," (featuring Troy Roberts) pays homage to the Cuban Rumba, a heartfelt tribute resonating with the rhythmic vitality of Cuban heritage. "Conversations," (featuring Alex Norris), delves into struggles and disagreements, grounded in the Currulao Rhythm from the Pacific Coast of Colombia. This movement initiates a compelling dialogue between the congas and the drum set (featuring Jimmy Macbride), symbolically representing the African heritage bridging the two Americas. 

"Attraction" (featuring Ricky Rodriguez), is a harmonious tribute to the love songs of the Americas, intricately weaving European musical influences from the 19th century into a dreamscape of love beyond reality. "Expanding Spaces" (featuring Ahmed Alom) encapsulates the contemporary urban melting pot experience, as if György Ligeti met Tito Puente, evoking a rich interplay of tension and expectations. 

"The Song," inspired by Torres' exploration of the Caribbean coast and indigenous communities, mirrors the sounds of the natural surroundings through the Cumbia and Bullerengue tradition. The melody traces its origins to the bird sounds of the Tayrona (Colombia's National Park in Santa Marta), drawing parallels with Olivier Messiaen's early piano works that transcribed bird calls/songs. Here, Torres initiates a dialogue between the bird songs of Tayrona and Messiaen birds, symbolizing the migration of hand drums, particularly the congas, from Africa, across the Americas. 

"Shall We Fly," a tribute to personal family traditions, embracing influences from European traditions, incorporating the Andean Bambuco alongside the unmistakable sounds of Maracas Llaneras from the plains of Colombia and Venezuela. Melodic nods to family traditions and "classical" string quartets intertwine, creating a harmonious blend. 

"The Gathering," as its name says, is a call from the main bird, the congas, to the others to unite in a sound meditation, inspired by Pauline Oliveros' Deep Listening experience. 

The movement titled "Strength in Unison" emerges as a celebration and dance choreography, inspired by the music of the carnival of Barranquilla. This movement becomes a jubilant manifestation of unity across diverse cultures and traditions. Torres, through this composition, accentuates the strength found in collective collaboration.

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