A Voice from Mexico

Remi Álvarez and Mark DresserSoul to Soul (Discos Intolerancia, 2010)

It’s through recordings that a musician can find an audience beyond local boundaries. That’s probably true even in New York (one’s resume can be covered in gigs and band appearances there, but the recordings are a more convenient calling card). But it’s especially true if you’re outside the accepted free-jazz capitals.

Remi Álvarez is from Mexico City, and it’s safe to say I never would have found him were it not for this recording, his first in eight years. And he’s a terrific find, a saxophonist with a personable touch and a sharply creative mind.

I love the plain sound of his sax. He’s well miked here, with some echo that might just be the sound of the room. Playing lower registers, fast or slow, he’s got a warm sound, with a light and flexible fluttering to long runs of notes. It’s like a kite being steered through a stiff breeze.

Most of the album, which  includes tracks of up to 15 minutes, follows an improvised-jazz course.  Mark Dresser on bass is the better-known musician, and his variety and creativity hold up to the standard you’d expect. Álvarez is right there with him, building a seemingly effortless, conversational mood, lively and intimate.

“Eternal Present” opens the album with a sensitive, sweet air, but the scene gets tougher later on, both in this track and in the scrabbling, heart-pumping track that follows, ironically titled “Do Nothing.”  On only one track, “True Self,” do they spend lots of time in sound-exploration territory, with lots of buzzes and creaks from Álvarez, and Dresser sticking to high, squeaking bowing.

Álavarez teaches for the Escuela Nacional de Música at Universidad Autónoma de México (ENM – UNAM), and I would guess he gets occastional stateside gigs through connections with trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez and with the Houston creative music scene. Odds of his making it to the Bay Area are pretty darned slim, though.

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