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Uplifting Spirit: Espiritu Optimista by AfroMantra

This is Afromantra’s third album, and this mix of bop with Afro-Cuban and South American rhythms does not disappoint. Alex García, the group’s leader and enthusiastic drummer, gives us another great set of original compositions and arrangements, each exhibiting the group’s unique sound. Overall, the combination of different influences along with superb musicianship makes this an album worth listening to.

"The Uplifting Spirit of Our Soul" definitely is uplifting with its bright tempo and opening piano line. The melody line, played on sax by Ole Mathisen, occasionally breaks down from the tight, punctuated groove it begins as into a romp through free space for him and pianist Pablo Vergara. Garcia takes a drum solo while Vergara and bassist Waldo Chavez continue their vamp. The piece then returns to a wilder version of the melody line, drawing on Garcia’s drums for the closing statement.

"Canción Latinoamericana" begins with a mambo-like rhythm that develops into Mathisen’s singsong melody line. The rhythm section backs him up flawlessly, tightly playing each punctuated background statement. Vergara takes a melodically inspired solo, followed by a more subdued bass solo by Chavez. As Mathisen takes his turn, the heat gets turned up and the rhythms beneath his soprano become more complex and layered. The piece grows from there to crescendo into a warm, lasting chord.

"Luna y el Sol" is a beautiful ballad, beginning with a lyrical piano line that is eventually joined by bass and drums, as well as the trilling soprano sax. The drums speed up the tempo and the sax takes over the melody and the tune takes on a light, capricious air that bellies the somber mood of the opening line. The piece ends rather suddenly, fading off at the end of the phrase into silence.

While spiced with Cuban, Latin and South American sounds and rhythms, this group’s jazz influences are easily heard, both in structure and in soloing. Each track is in a slightly different style and features different points of the group. The musicianship is at a high level, the playing on every track is extremely tight, and the improvisation is inspiring. Overall, a great album.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: AfroMantra
  • CD Title: Uplifting Spirit: Espiritu Optimista
  • Genre: Latin Jazz / Latin Funk
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Afromantra Records
  • Tracks: The Uplifting Spirit of our Soul, Canción Latinoamericana, Luna y el Sol, A Emiliano Salvador, Por Tí, Nuevo Amanecer, Yemaya Diosa del Mar, Sueños de Otoño, Green Horizons, Lighting the World, Mi Palabra
  • Musicians: Alejandro García (drums), Ole Mathisen (tenor and soprano saxes), Pablo Vergara (piano, keyboards), Aryam Vazquez (congas, percussion), Waldo Chavez (bass)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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