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From Uruguay to New York: Florencia Gonzalez stuns with ‘Between Loves’ debut

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Florencia Gonzalez “Between Loves” [June 10, 2014 ZOHO]

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‘Between Loves’ — it’s love for the music, the kind that touches us in a very deep place in our souls. It is an addictive force beyond our understanding that makes one travel across the whole world in its pursuit. What is that strong and inescapable energy that makes one pursue this love? Yet, other loves are never left behind. This is what is present in each and every single one of these tunes.

The album cover shows a lovely girl — who appears no older than maybe 17 — lying next to her faded tenor saxophone in a field of greenery and purple flowers, with just her name and the album title, “Between Loves.”

That cover shot by Leo Barizzoni doesn’t begin to tell the true story of the music within. Florencia Gonzalez’s music — either composed by this Uruguayan musician or thoughtfully rearranged by her — billows out from behind deceptively plain-spoken doors with sweeping, depthless orchestral movements on a rhythmic ride.

Her first ZOHO release feels very much like a live performance from start to finish, and the eight tracks play out like a five-album set. Set to drop June 10th, “Between Loves” is Gonzalez’s attempt to track her initial disposition as an immigrant to the United States from Uruguay. “All the compositions on ‘Between Loves,’ my debut recording for the ZOHO label, were composed during my first years in this country,” she explained. “The title subject, ‘Between Loves,’ of this CD is still a current theme in my music and my life, which is always an issue for a person with an immigration background like myself — in my case, from Uruguay to New York.”

As an immigrant, Gonzalez draws heavily from her country of origin and her adopted country in the new music she presents, on top of old ones. She always gives the bones of each song a loving point of reference. The entire album is driven by her loves, and the way she touches on them all reverently and carefully, so as not to leave anyone out. “‘Between Loves’ — it’s love for the music, the kind that touches us in a very deep place in our souls. It is an addictive force beyond our understanding that makes one travel across the whole world in its pursuit. What is that strong and inescapable energy that makes one pursue this love? Yet, other loves are never left behind. This is what is present in each and every single one of these tunes. It is not music from the North or South, nor from here or there. It is in between, between loves.”

Gonzalez manages to lovingly highlight everyone in her recording band in a substantive manner, giving into the absorbing material.

Pianist Luis Perdomo sings in his solo halfway between her meditative flights on tenor sax in “Chacarera For Greg” — a piece originally intended for a 20-member big band. Nothing’s lost in that translation. She dedicated the six-minute, 51-second suite to her first composition teacher, Greg Hopkins, at Berklee College of Music, where she was once a student. “I learned a lot from him. The most important thing he taught me is that, as composers, we need to know how to analyze music, to be able to learn from thousands of years of amazing pieces that surround us,” she explained in her liner notes. “In this tune, I intended to express the spirit of the country dances; not only the Chacarera, but also the Malambo and other dances in which dancers stomp their feet, and people cheer them along by clapping their hands. The rhythm is pretty complex, based on a two against three. The piece tries to recreate this tension among the layers of contrasting rhythms not only on the rhythm section, but also on the wind instruments. The music is descriptive, where the brass steps in for the stomping solos of the male dancers.”

“Zamba For Jose Gervasio” is another inspirational piece dependent on the horns for the contrasting rhythmic nature of Gonzalez’s compositional framework and state of origin. She borrows the cadences and note-fingered highs — bassist Fernando Huergo takes full control by the 2:40 mark, shaving melodic excess and recreating another song in his contrasting solo statement — from her childhood in Uruguay learning “fantastic” folk songs in school. “I was inspired… by those folk songs that we used to sing in school, which were full of fantastic images from the countryside. My classmates and I were born and raised in the city, and for us these images were a fantasy; a fantastic place full of kapok flowers, singing birds, and sometimes national heroes,” she explained. “Everyone in my family was from the city, except for my grandfather, the only one who knew all these songs from his childhood. He used to ask my sisters and I to sing them over and over, and of course, we were never tired of singing them.” This instrumental is the city girl’s interpretation of a wild, fantastic countryside, always elaborately unraveling wonders, yet considerably feminine in its gentle touches of awe.

Perhaps the best example of Florencia Gonzalez’s thoughtfulness in preparing for the record is in “Hurry” by Hugo Fattoruso, a fellow Uruguayan musician renowned for many popular, beautiful songs. With only recordings to go on, Gonzalez asked him for the lead sheet before doing her arrangement of the song, interested in getting inside Fattoruso’s head when he wrote the composition. She found the live versions much better for her purpose. “I realized that the melody written on the lead sheet differed a lot from the live versions which I had been hearing. On his live recordings, he was singing much richer rhythms. So I decided to transcribe these rhythms and they became the main characteristic of my arrangement,” she explained. “The combined horns play these complex rhythms, unlocking the tune and making it flow in a more magical and fresher way, much as the live versions of this tune that I heard from Hugo Fattoruso.”

Gonzalez transcribes the music of her Uruguay in the complex, rhythmic ventures of her and her recording band, like a savvy big bandleader. Whether she’s picking up on an almost-ancient Hebrew wedding folk dance vibe, then countering that with an elaborate Blue Note piano fixture, in “Woman Dreaming Of Escape,” or letting the horns charge through the title track based on two chords, she knows how to mix her cultural lines until there is only one great love. She also knows how to muscle the horns into the spotlight where the piano-bass-drum rhythm section usually dominates. This is a new artist to watch.

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