by Dodie Miller-Gould
Raul E. Blanco is a multi-faceted performer who, on his latest album with Jazz Wires, has mixed and mastered the material, and also plays piano, Cuban percussion and sings. The album, “Land of Giants” finds Blanco & Jazz Wires participating in huge musical traditions, but doing so in ways that sound new and engaging. There are few superlatives that do justice to what is accomplished on this album. It has few predictable sequences and brims with life, energy and fun.
A bit about Raul E. Blanco
Blanco is from Camaguey, Cuba, which is the central region of the island. His paternal grandfather was a piano teacher. A love of music was passed from Blanco’s grandfather to his father and finally to Blanco.
Blanco was educated in a series of rigorous music conservatories from age seven until he reached college age. At 18, Blanco came to the US for college, and also taught music at the elementary school level and directed a choir. After finishing his bachelor’s degree at Texas Southern University, Blanco continued to play and learn about the recording process. In 2017, Blanco began his master’s degree at Washington State University. In February 2018, he put together Jazz Wires. In a short amount of time, the group has released four singles and two albums. “Land of Giants” was released in November 2018.
“Land of Giants” by Raul E. Blanco & Jazz Wires
A pulsing piano motif soon gives way to long horn notes. Trumpets begin to play choppy notes as percussion and piano crush in just beneath. Then, the brass takes another turn, slightly. The series of notes that listeners get used to speeds up and then breaks for a trumpet showcase that is passionate. Next comes a dizzying saxophone showcase. But beneath is a beautiful mix of piano and percussion that gently, but obviously, pushes the song along. At almost three minutes, the song turns from pop-ish jazz, to decidedly more Latin jazz. In either mode, “Land of Giants” sounds big. Its ambitious chords and arrangements sweep listeners along. The hand percussion at the end sounding more like pop than anything else. It sounds brilliant and feels triumphant.
“Fast Wired Blues”: Raul E. Blanco & Jazz Wires
For those looking for a little bit of traditional blues on this album, this song is it. And even though it has an old-school feel, it is a rollicking tune that makes the ensemble sound like a train bound for somewhere quickly. There is much that can be said for the way speed is used to make the song come to life. The trumpet showcase that plays on top of a piano that provides almost strident notes is an engaging burst of energy. Then the trumpet drops out and the piano plays a high-pitched series of notes that sound as if they are spinning in a circle. The feel is hypnotic, and certainly danceable if a person has very fast feet. It is impossible to feel solemn about anything while listening to this song. Even though the overall feel is big, fast and joyous, the slowed down, parts add dimension and style. A lot goes on in the piece and from the first listen, audiences will want to hear it again.
With songs that borrow stylistically from pop, ska and Afro-Cuban music, “Land of Giants” by Raul E. Blanco & Jazz Wires makes music that is at once dizzying and engaging. A must-listen.