Right from the start, throw out any ideas of comparing Hugo Fernandez to anybody. Comparisons to Pat Metheny and John Abercrombie have been made but that presupposition is going to make you miss the absolute thrill of Fernandez' album "Cosmogram." This is original. This is fresh. This caught me by surprise.
Through my first listening of "Cosmogram," I kept muttering to myself things like, "Wow," "Cool," Nice choice," or "Ooo, didn't expect that."
Of all his "nice" choices his best ones were in the musicians he chose to accompany him on this, his debut album for Origin Records (Origin 82692). Antonio Miguel is on acoustic bass, Ariel Bringuez is on soprano and tenor saxophones and the great Antonio Sanchez is on drums.
"Cosmogram" was recorded, mixed and mastered at Infinity Records in Madrid by Pabol Baselga. While I don't usually comment on the sound engineers, Fernandez has called Baselga "the fifth member of the band." His mixing is wonderful. All of the artists are heard distinctly and in the best possible mix. Nobody is lost in the final sound.
"Reconciliacion" opens the album with the coolest, darkest chords against Antonio Sanchez's throbbing drums. Antonio Miguel's acoustic bass produces the same droning as the drums while Ariel Bringuez's tenor sax enters the piece.
From the very first notes, "Reconciliacion" grabs the attention. The development of the sax lines are nothing short of fascinating. Fernandez retakes the lead and offers beautiful melodic lines atop the expansive drumming of Sanchez. Miguel is zeroed in with Sanchez and the quartet shapes one of the most intriguing pieces of music you would ever hope to experience.
"Metro" is lively and rich. Bringuez's soprano sax adds a cosmopolitan element while Miguel and Sanchez are more earthy and constant. Fernandez builds on a slow arpeggio motif that provides a nice setup for Bringuez who turns in an asymmetrical approach to the rhythms that give a vivid impression of the metro life.
"Sublime" has a Gershwin-esque intro that sets the piece in motion nicely. Fernandez is simply splendid in his even, disciplined and generous grounding of the composition.
Miguel gets a bass solo that is...well, let me say it...sublime. He is followed by Sanchez who solos to the same effect. Sanchez is as tonal as he is rhythmic in his drumming. Again it should be stated that Fernandez's musicians are perfectly suited to his compositions and arrangements. "Sublime" is a great example of that.
A Middle Eastern feel introduces "Grounds." The soprano sax creates the motif that is expressed leisurely and is then assumed by the quartet briefly before launching into a sweet groove. The piece then slows up for a paced interlude before the resuming of the groove over motif.
Miguel's bass is steady and Sanchez's cymbals are in step. Fernandez and Bringuez trade licks and the listener is in for a ride. The themes and motifs of "Grounds" are riveting. If Hugo Fernandez wants to be known as a composer, "Grounds" will gain him just that attention. It is a superbly written track.
The same could really be said of "Auras," the fifth track on the album. There is a bounce-back effect between sax and guitar as bass and drums mirror that effect. It is almost Jazz counterpoint, as of Bach had spent a month with Coltrane. This is excellent.
"Un-balanced" gives a clue to its structure in the title. The straight swing of the rhythm section is offset by guitar then sax. The sax breaks away from the tempo, then rejoins, then breaks away again. There is unison, then division. Fun.
"Bakio" is a beautiful melody underpinned by a heavy rhythm. One section casts Fernandez's effected guitar against the imaginative drumming of Sanchez.
Bringuez is cool and haunting. Think Jan Garbarek cool. Again, Fernandez has crafted a well-formed and brilliantly executed opus worthy of repeated listening.
The album is brought to a close with "Yap." It is yet another gorgeously composed and performed work. Bringuez returns to the tenor sax against the gentle strokes of Fernandez's guitar.
As stated before, the recording and mixing is the not-so-secret hero. From start to finish, "Yap" is effortless enjoyment of music presented so well. Fernandez plays so cleanly against the vigorous rhythm section. The wash of the cymbals cascading over the melodies is richly textured. Fernandez and Bringuez are straightforward and melodic in this thrilling conclusion to a brilliant album.
"Cosmogram" had me from the start, Fernandez's choices in chords and times from the outset indicated that he is a composer who deserves great attention. He is an excellent band leader and an exceptional guitarist. "Cosmogram" is something special and, hopefully, the shape of things to come.