By Christina Wood
Néstor Torres has been a very busy man. In addition to his usual schedule of concerts and collaborations, the Latin jazz flutist released two new recordings this year.
It doesn’t look like he’ll be slowing down any time soon, either.
He’ll be back in Palm Beach County on Nov. 11, when he appears with Jon Secada in two shows at the Boca Raton Resort & Club presented by Jazziz.
When Torres takes the stage, the audience can look forward to hearing music from Jazz Flute Traditions, his 15th album. Released in September, the CD represents a different direction for the popular South Florida-based flutist.
“This is straight-ahead jazz and hardcore Latin, back to the roots, paying homage to those jazz flutists who came before us,” he says. “I’m very proud of it.”
In the CD’s 11 tracks, Torres tips his hat to jazz flute pioneers such as Herbie Mann and Eric Dolphy, as well as Torres’ idol and mentor, Hubert Laws. Composers as diverse as Chick Corea and Cole Porter are also represented.
From Swingin’ Shepherds Blues by Moe Koffman to Miami Beach Rhumba by Irving Fields and John A. Camacho, Torres demonstrates both a deep respect and an intimate knowledge of the traditions that surround the flute’s place in jazz and Latin jazz history, bringing together what might be a disparate collection of musical memories by putting his own irrepressible stamp on all of them.
At the opening of this year’s installment of the series Nestor Torres Presents: Latin Music y Más! at the Boca Black Box, the Puerto-Rican born artist performed several numbers from the recording, including Jungle Fantasy. The instrumental was originally recorded in 1948 by Esy Morales, another Puerto Rican flute virtuoso.
The song was featured in the rarely seen 1949 film noir, Criss Cross, as Torres told the crowd that night. Setting the stage for the evocative tune in a warm, slow voice, he described the scene in the movie: Morales and his orchestra were playing in a crowded club, Burt Lancaster smolders in black-and-white as a young Yvonne De Carlo dances with an unbilled actor (who turns out to be Tony Curtis in one of his first film roles).
Torres pays tribute to a different group of groundbreakers on his second release of the year. Del Caribe, Soy!: Latin American Flute Music features a collection of compositions by leading Latin American composers. Released in October, it is his first classical recording.
“My love for classical music came about by listening to Hubert Laws,” Torres says. Laws is one of the few classical artists who also succeeded in the jazz world. He appeared as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta, performed at Carnegie Hall and was a member of the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera orchestras. But he also appeared at the Montreux, Playboy and Kool Jazz Festivals.
Like Laws, Torres is classically trained, having studied at the Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. His distinctive Caribbean verve combines shines alongside that classical background on the disc, which features an impressive lineup of contemporary Latin American composers, including Cuban-born Tania León, a highly regarded composer and conductor, and Grammy-nominated composer Miguel del Águila, originally from Uruguay.
“Tania León, she is a very well-known, very well-respected composer in contemporary classical music – and not just Latin,” says Torres. “She’s a real presence and force in the contemporary classical music scene worldwide.”
León contributed two pieces to the project. Her compositions encapsulate the pulsing rhythms, vibrant color and improvisational elements that represent the key features of the album and contrast beautifully with the seductive allure and expressive depth of del Águila’s Miami Flute Suite.
Torres borrowed the name of one of León’s compositions, one that was written expressly for him, for the title of the recording. “I think it’s very fitting because the concept of the recording is material by Latin American composers, Tania León, Miguel del Aguila, Rafael Hernandez and myself,” the flutist says. “I think there’s something whimsical about it, something very captivating. And I love the composition. ‘Del Caribe, Soy’ – I am from the Caribbean!”
The album was recorded live during one of the Saint Martha Concerts presented in Miami Shores. Torres was commissioned by the series organizers to create a piece based on the biblical story of Martha and Mary.
“It was quite a bit of a challenge, because it was my first officially classic composition,” Torres admits. “As the listener will see, it’s rather eclectic.”
The commission gave Torres the opportunity to follow through on an idea he’d had years earlier, before he had even finished his studies. “We got into this whole period in the 20th century in which ‘classical’ music started getting very cerebral, very mental, very experimental,” he says. “The music started going in a direction that was devoid of heart, devoid of emotion.” That was anathema to Torres, who is nothing if not passionate.
“This is what I was thinking 30 or so years ago, when I decided I want to do symphonic work, I want to do classical. I wanted to contribute to the genre because I felt it needed other options beyond dissonance.”
Marta y María (Op. 4), his commission from the Saint Martha series, has now allowed him to make that contribution. In it, the options Torres chose to explore have resulted in a mix of classical traditions with Middle Eastern flavor and subtle Caribbean flair.
Currently, the flutist is working with another contemporary composer, Mariano Morales, a distinguished pianist, composer and arranger from Puerto Rico, who has been commissioned to create a flute concerto for Torres. The world premiere will be presented in April at Lynn Uniyrsity.
“We’re still working on it,” Torres says. The approach is the same as the one he used when working with León. “Mariano is listening to my playing, to my voice and what I do. He is then developing the composition based on that.”
The process isn’t as far along as Torres would like. He wants to be sure he’ll have adequate time to prepare for the concert. But, he says he’s encouraged by the words of Leonard Bernstein, who said, “To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quit enough time.”
Néstor Torres and Jon Secada perform at 7 pm and 9 pm Saturday, Nov. 11, in the Valencia Room of the Boca Raton Resort and Club. Tickets: $75, which includes deluxe open bar. For reservations, visit www.bocaresort.com/events.