Jazz Wires, a group led by Cuban-born Raul E. Blanco, creates such a huge impact on their new CD Land of Giants that you might not believe there are only six “wires.” The title track, which starts off this potent album, sounds like it’s performed by a big band who secretly wishes it was a rock band. You feel the pulsing beat, delivered with powerful sonic exclamation marks, and you think “Wow, this is some big music. It’s almost arena jazz.” While Blanco does play more than one role on Jazz Wires’ Land of Giants–piano, vocals and percussion, not to mention mixing and mastering–there is no doubt that this sextet takes the title of this album quite seriously by creating a BIG sound.
On Land of Giants, Jazz Wires makes a big leap from recording jazz standards to Blanco’s original compositions, which were influenced by his early years living in a musical household in the Camaguey region. Blanco’s grandmother was a piano teacher and his father truly loved music, and by the time he was ten years old he was enrolled at the Alejandro Garcia Caturla Music Conservatory. He came to the US at eighteen, settled in the Houston area, and was soon a music and choir teacher at an elementary school. You can almost feel that emotional connection in the music, the idea of passing these musical ideas through generations and preserving the past. While the group does provide a modern, almost pop-like twist on Afro-Cuban rhythms, especially when Blanco sings, that’s part of the underlying message. Keep the traditions close to your heart, but don’t forget to add a little something that’s uniquely you.
The sextet, which also features sax player Brandt Fisher, trumpeter Noah Austin, trombonist/singer Gabriella Aragon, bassist Joseph Ballestrasse and drummer Anthony Channita, know how to pump up the energy and then scale it back down when necessary. Land of Giants isn’t about emulating a big band sound with a skeleton crew, but being flexible enough to realize what each compositions needs to sound fully fleshed out. That depends on not just the song, but the moment. Land of Giants is full of shifting, evolving ideas that sound like Latin big band one moment and an intimate ballad the next. Jazz Wires, as a group, helps in the execution, but Raul E. Blanco’s precise arrangements are the inner spirit of this success.
In other words, you get the best of both worlds with Land of Giants. You get the synchronization between the musicians that is essential to big band dynamics, and you get enough of a space between the performers that you can really focus on individual ideas and phrases. Jazz Wires are young and full of vigor, and perhaps that’s what they need to be to pass these traditions on to the next generation, and the next.