The Latin Side of Hot House By Raul da Gama
Emilio Solla: Painting with Sound
The word inventor features prominently on Emilio Solla’s website. Arnold Schoenberg once used the same word to describe John Cage saying, “He’s not a composer, he’s an inventor—of genius.” The latter became infamous for using the prepared piano, among many other sonic inventions, musical gestures and devices, in his work. But Emilio’s genius stems from being a different kind of inventor.
His inventions dwell in a more traditional realm and he uses the 88 keys of the piano as if they were brushes with which to paint musical canvases. Furthermore he finishes off his lapidary work employing a full palette of brass, reeds, percussion and strings to shape his inventions, magnifying and ornamenting them exponentially. “I’m realistic about my capabilities as a pianist,” he says diffidently. “If you look around there are scores of pianists just like me. But once I’m done with orchestrating a piece, I like to think that my own voice emerges.”
Emilio is Argentine by birth, but thanks to an itinerant soul he has traversed continents. His extraordinary music is steeped in the traditions that span those continents. Yet while tradition, his music seems to say, is a wonderful reality, the inner dynamic of tradition always remains innovation. And so, often by throwing overboard melodic, structural and harmonic hooks that have become expressively blunted from overuse, Emilio builds from what might—or mightn’t—be left. For instance, the tango might be evoked in a piece, but its rhythm actually lives and breathes in its visceral emotion rather than in its tempo. This he swathes in the diaphanous and dense tone-textures of wafting bandoneons, accordions, piano, brass and reeds, palpitating in myriad percussion colors and grounded in bass. Out of such an enormous musical canvas, the song’s narratives are painted by the soloing instruments.
In Buenos Aires, the inebriation of Astor Piazzolla’s nuevo tango once hung heavily in the air and fired up his musical imagination. “But like someone too intoxicated by love, I had to leave,” Emilio explains. “I ended up in Barcelona almost accidentally and fell in love again,” spending 1996 to 2006 in Spain. “I think I found my second wind there. I also met a fantastic group of musicians, bonded immediately, and my music began to flow.”
This music flows from expertly manipulated brushstrokes that Emilio uses with sublime mastery. And they have unfolded beautifully with his nonet La Orquestable and several smaller ensembles, leading up to today’s Tango Jazz Orchestra. Emilio’s eight discs as leader might sometimes seem dwarfed by his enormous contributions as composer and orchestrator on the celebrated recordings of other musicians. But they include Suite Piazzollana (2001), Bien Sur! (2009), the Grammy-nominated Second Half (2014) and Puertos (2019), and songs such as “Llegará, Llegará, Llegará” and “La Novena”—all masterpieces by the singular inventor who lives to paint with sound.
Emilio Solla Tango Jazz Orchestra performs at Birdland Jan. 5.