Drummer Gustavo Cortiñas' Esse is an ambitious project where the Mexican-born, Chicago-based musician achieves remarkable success. His second album as a leader, Esse features his septet Snapshot. They interpret nine of his intricate compositions with vibrant spontaneity. Drawing inspiration from Western philosophical works, the music is simultaneously cerebral and maintains an emotive connection, hence remaining accessible.
On the poetic "Filosofia," the rhythm quartet creates an expectant ambience that serves as a backdrop for trumpeter Justin Copeland and tenor saxophonist Roy McGrath's delightfully dissonant exchanges. These evolve over pianist Joaqu'n Garc'a's percussive chords into a contemplative duet. Here, Copeland and McGrath interweave their respective phrases into a darkly hued intriguing melody. Guitarist Hans Luchs' simmering strings, meanwhile, shimmer and glow within the mystical atmosphere.
The bluesy "The Allegory of the Cave" has a loosely swinging cadence and complex, overlapping instrumental lines. Tenor saxophonist Artie Black lets loose thick resonant refrains, which lead into his yearning, expansive improvisation. Luchs solos with unhurried fervor and a pensive edge while bassist Kitt Lyles takes center stage with eloquent lyricism. The tune closes thrillingly as Cortiñas trades stimulating clusters of beats with his sidemen.
The dramatic and energetic "Ubermench" opens with Cortiñas' propulsive drumming. McGrath lets loose a muscular and elaborate soliloquy that reflects the spirit and the elegance of the composition. Trombonist Adam Thornburg extemporizes with passionate virtuosity while Garc'a lets loose cascading and crystalline series of notes. Copeland blows lithe and wistful embellishments that match Luchs' lean, taut guitar monologue. Cortiñas brings the piece full circle with his thunderous conclusion.
With the cohesive and captivating Esse, Cortiñas has created superb work that balances refreshingly inventive ideas with high-caliber musicianship. This exquisite and continuously gripping record is a testament to Cortiñas' triple threat of skills as dynamic performer, agile bandleader and brilliant composer.