EL CLAN DESTINO – Rukus
It isn’t just the layers of rhythmic intensity streaming from the percussive duo of Jamie Ryan and Fransisco Martinez. It isn’t just the incredible dexterity and control of bassist Nick Moran. And it isn’t even the inspired insanity of Vincent Fuh’s piano performance. When these four experienced and prolific musicians joined forces in the form of El Clan Destino to create Rukus, the result was an inventive conglomeration of Afro-Cuban beats and funk fusion that is unrelentingly engaging and uniquely moving.
While the band has been together for over two years, this is their debut recording. However, their reputation as a stellar live band and the musical experience of each member helps this disc transcend the standard inaugural album. The tracks move between ferociously manic pieces of Cuban funk to intimate, silky piano compositions and back again without falling off the mark for a single beat.
Though primarily sticking to the confines of the traditional clave (a syncopated, two-bar musical pattern), the contemporary variations on classic themes is what sets this disc apart. The interplay of Ryan on his congas and Martinez behind his kit gives a stylized, smooth flavor to these tracks. Moran’s tumbao bubbles up from under the percussion, filling the low-end with a finesse and understated grace. But the dominant presence in this quartet is the undeniable artistry and impeccable technique of Fuh behind his piano. The sound flows from his fingers as he bangs his poor keyboard into submission.
From the opening track, Michel Camilo’s “From Within,” the stage is set. The whole band hits the groove from the first downbeat and the ride is on. Fuh’s performance on this track is just plain sick. His deft manipulation of the full range of his piano, with chromatic builds accenting the powerful refrain, makes it very clear that this man is a trained, finely tuned talent. When the band drops out for a few bars to merely the bass refrain and comes slamming back in to finish the progression, it is evident that the level of communication and experience shared amongst the members of this band is something special that leaves a lasting impression.
As “Undine” and Jeff Beck’s “Led Boots” continue the groove, “Smite” drops it down and lets Fuh delve into the passionate and romantic side of his repertoire. “Andalucia” is another story entitely. Fuh plays alone through this track, creating charming, subtly emotive phrase with shades of Gershwin melding with a defined Latin flavor. But then “El Rukus” rockets into a funky, frantic assault. This track is all about the rhythm, with shifting phrasing augmenting the sound and feel, giving Moran room to play the lead while Ryan and Martinez coalesce into a raging percussive beast.
Rukus is ambitious, spicy, brash, original and entertaining. The production is gorgeous, with the talent of DNA’s Mark Whitcomb behind the board, and the spread of vibrations throughout the sound-field makes this a rewarding listen, with a true sense of space permeating the mix. But without the brilliant performances, unreal musical communication and dead-on meshing of tonal elements, this CD would have faltered. In the end, the complexity of the arrangements, the enormity of the sound and the intricacy of the performances set this album as a new standard in local Latin jazz.