The sophomore release from Oscar Hernández & Alma Libre finds the leader of the Grammy-Award winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra in the more intimate setting of a quintet, shining a brighter spotlight on his skills as a soloist and composer/arranger. The band—saxophonist/flutist Justo Almario, electric bassist Oskar Cartaya, drummer Jimmy Branly and percussionist Christian Moraga—plays with fire and beauty throughout ten new
melodically appealing, harmonically sophisticated and rhythmically compelling Hernández originals.
The group lives up to its name (Spanish for free spirit) on opener "Otro Nivel" (Another Level), a hardbopping cooker adding the trumpet of guest Gilbert Castellanos to the frontline, charging straightahead over the pulsating rhythm section before making way for a melodious piano solo and incendiary trap drum interlude. The mood softens as Almario and Castellanos switch to flute and flugelhorn, respectively, on the title track that follows, a minor mode episode recalling the Horace Silver Quintet. The date moves forward in a decidedly AfroCuban direction on the next three tracks: "Latino Jazz", a lively excursion with a montuno midsection featuring congas; "Danzón for Lisa", a pretty variation on the traditional Cuban dance form, Almario back on flute and guest Dayren Santamaria on violin; and "Mi Cancion Es Para Ti", an energized outing with tenor wailing over a rumba rhythm.
"Silent Prayers" is a meditative piece, Almario again on flute and the returning Castellanos playing muted trumpet, then remaining to play powerful openbell horn alongside tenor on "Alternate Roots", an exciting venture with a climactic drum solo played over a piano montuno. Almario and Hernández wax romantic on the ballad "Sentimento De Amor", then dance over the mellow rhythms of "Groove For Peace". The date ends in soulful fashion with "Mindful Thoughts", Cartaya soloing lyrically before Hernández and Almario (back on tenor) take their turns to close out this most satisfying date.