Life at sea is one of adventure, mystery, and intrigue. For most of modernity, traveling by water has been a principal pathway of migration. And tracing these routes doesn’t just yield insights into our collective history but also our musical one. When people of different countries and civilizations collide, so do their cultures, cuisines, and compositions. (And from an ecological perspective, estuaries that form from the mixing of salt and freshwater are rich with biodiversity.) And herein is the spark of Puertos: Music of International Waters: a diverse and dazzling, triumphant, and tantalizing album for “all hands” by acclaimed bandleader, composer, and arranger Emilio Solla.
“I’ve always been fascinated with how bodies of water merge as one. And especially, the role of ports,” said Solla. “It’s where people arrive and depart, and where new relationships and ideas begin.” His curiosity with voyaging by sea began when he learned about his ancestors. His paternal grandparents hailed from Spain (Galicia and Andalusia). His maternal grandparents came from Ukraine and arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1919. They rented a room in a home near the main port. Solla fondly remembers his grandparents speaking Spanish only proficiently, full of Neapolitan slang, with a Russian accent. Such a unique mix in the early twentieth century might have only been found in Buenos Aires. In fact, the cover picture of the album is circa 1920, and shows immigrants arriving here, entering a new life.
Born and raised in Argentina, Solla followed the family tradition (not of traveling by ship!) of moving countries, first settling in Spain, and then ending up in the United States. While in the US, he recognized parallels in the port cities of New York and Buenos Aires. “Both are integral to unique forms of music: jazz and tango,” he said. “Foreigners made these port cities home and, in turn, made their place in the world.”
Wanting to explore the role of ports in cultural collision, he began writing and arranging music that would invoke this theme. Puertos is Solla’s big band follow up album to his GRAMMY-nominated Second Half that was every bit of a masterpiece. Each piece on this album is dedicated to a port that has played a seminal role in the development of jazz, tango, or Solla’s creative life. That an artist has thought deeply about the geography of his craft speaks to his commitment in honoring traditions, paying homage to those who came before, rending them anew, and creating a “port” for new audiences to dock. Like his previous album, this one is a transcendent vessel.
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