The terrorist attack on America of September 11, 2001. The resulting wars in Afghanistan and Iran. The devastating tsunami in Indonesia. Hurricane Katrina's wrath unleashed on the Gulf Coast. Sometimes it seems it's a countdown to the last days with a race between man and Mother Nature to see which one can cause the most death and destruction.
Faced with the problems of the world, a writer might sit down to put their thoughts to pen and paper. A film director might make a movie. Nestor Torres went into the studio to make the most spiritual album of his career. Torres seeks to find the meaning within his music and with Dances, Prayers & Meditations For Peace he does.
Torres says in the liner notes he wants to transcend merely being a recording artist into "an agent of change." In this extremely ambitious album Torres bares his soul and pours his feelings of anguish, concern, fear into a passionate plea for understanding, reconciliation and peace. For Torres, September 11, 2001 was tragically warped from a day of joy and triumph into one of madness and sorrow. The Latin Grammy Awards Show was scheduled to take place and Torres had been nominated in the Pop Instrumental category. Like everything else that day, the show was cancelled, but despite winning the Grammy, his individual accomplishment paled into comparison of the infinite tragedy that was 9/11.
Torres went into the studio and came out with thirteen tracks that he hopes will allow the world to unify in music, dance and prayer. An ambitious goal certainly, but there is nothing insincere or calculating in this album. That doesn't mean Torres is trying to beat the listener into submission with piety. You can nod your head, tap your feet and hum along to many of the tracks. But underlying it all is an artist with an agenda. Rock fans get called to embrace higher purposes by artists like U2's Bono or John Mellencamp. Willie Nelson does the same for country music fans. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina we've seen high-profile jazz artists such as Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis step up. Now Nestor Torres does the same but instead of asking for you to reach for your wallet, he wants you to dig deeper and get in touch with your humanity.
The Buddhist chanting of "Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law" alternatively drives me to feelings of delight and then distraction. Listening to the spiritual musings of another man can be a moment of enlightenment or too personal for public consumption. But then again, this album is to taken literally as songs to which you can dance, pray or meditate. "Peace With Myself," "Creole Dreams" and "Dance Because You Can" will quite nicely in the programming of any smooth jazz radio station. As Torres explains the motivation behind "Dance Because You Can" as to why he included the upbeat selections, "It may seem contradictory. We grieve, and we face whatever hardships we must face, and then we go dance, because we have the capacity to move on, and it's important that we do that. I can grieve when I have to, but that shouldn't hold me back from living my life."
Throughout Torres is in fine form on the flute and the contributions of the other musicians are uniformly strong. You cannot find fault with Torres' intentions here. This is as he says, "the truest and most honest record I have ever made." That might make this record a bit more intimidating than his last release, Sin Palabras which flawlessly blended jazz, Latin, funk and pop. The stakes are higher here.
Some things defy the ability of any critic to influence the consumer. Adam Sandler movies, McDonald's French fries and Paris Hilton for whatever it is she does that makes her a celebrity. Music this heartfelt and personal doesn't require the blessing of jazz critics to give it credence. There are times when you simply have to respect what an artist is trying to convey to the audience and things like four-star ratings, or a "thumbs up or down" only add static to the sound.
I've held nothing back. As a result, everything that I am as an artist and human being is expressed through the music in this recording," Torres says. What can anyone add to that? Dances, Prayers & Meditations For Peace is a challenge. Not to listen to, but to listen to without being put in touch with the humanity of Nestor Torres and quite possibly yourself.