Lary Barilleau is more than a percussionist; he is a veritable percussion colourist who wields sticks and mallets and brushes dipped and splayed into an enormous palette of tints and shades. This is evident throughout his record, Carmen’s Mambo where with these incandescent dyes Mr. Barilleau transforms his music into masterful musical murals and diaphanous canvases which carry a very special imprimatur. It is, of course, true that he reflects the heritage that bears the marque of Tito Puente—El Rey himself— Willie Bobo and the incomparable Pete Escovedo, but Mr. Barilleau is also a singular stylist in his own right. He has nothing of the mad flourishes of El Rey, but Mr. Barilleau is a sublime virtuoso who makes clever use of space between the pops, pings and hollow lowing of timbale, cymbal and cowbell. He is a master of anything shaken, grazed and beaten as well. Moreover—and above all—Mr. Barilleau has a master’s ear for the tone and texture of the instruments that he uses to flesh out the music played by his ensemble: in fact he has a very special skill around which he seems to have built his ensemble; which is to say on a host of stellar musicians whose own individualistic sounds he seems to write muscular charts for.
On this fine album, Mr. Barilleau gives evidence of his slew of skills fairly early on. His breathtaking performance on the beautifully re-imagined Horace Silver tune, “Nica’s Dream” is the hallmark of a most accomplished percussionist. He is, of course wonderfully assisted by Doug Beavers’ spectacular arrangement written for a large ensemble with reeds, woodwinds and brass, where Mr. Beavers uses his consummate skill to transform the bevy of instruments from horns into character actors in the crepuscular imaginings of Mr. Silver’s famous musical pantomime. Lary Barilleau is also a musician’s musician: he makes his instruments sing as they beat out a musical narrative, Mr. Barilleau can also make them scat and growl and chatter as well as push his voices into dissonant harmonies not often favoured by “safe” musicians. On “Nica’s Dream” he does just this with the full complement of his ensemble, especially with the bass, which alternates between consonance and dissonance; as well as plays in a two way counterpoint with trombone and saxophone.
The Horace Silver chart is not the only high point of the album; it is one of several. “Beautiful Day,” which precedes that chart gives notice of Lary Barilleau’s innate skill in transforming Doug Beavers’ genius as a harmonist who hears music in all its colours and shades into beautiful tonal passages; In fact, he is so attuned to his instruments as if he were the creator of their very myriad of tones and textures themselves. In this particular song, Mr. Barilleau shows how the epic backdrop of brass and woodwinds can bring forth soloists as if turning the music into a lively four-dimensional fabric. Specifically he often choses flutist Melecio Magdaluyo to play the central character in the music of this chart as he holds up the pulsations of the song by his percussive notes which weave in and out of the song, forming a remarkable spiral around the melody and harmony. Another important instrument is the trombone, which softens the music making key tonal contributions to the music. Here Doug Beavers plays a role perhaps as important as the composer and leader of the ensemble, as he is the glue that holds the harmonies together by playing arranger as well as instrumentalist.
Mr. Beavers can take much credit for the multi-dimensional manner in which the music is shaped and emerges, especially from “Rahsaan’s Lament” through “Carla” and “Se Acabó”. And it is pretty evident that Mr. Barilleau would be more than happy to share that credit with this accomplished musician beyond making him a footnote in the liner notes, for Lary Barilleau shows that he can also lay back and stretch as well as pull back so that the magic of Doug Beavers’ arrangements takes over on this remarkable album.