A healthy relationship developed with a parent is essential to the well-being of a child. The effects of a warm word or a bit of advice can last a lifetime when it comes from someone you love. Saxophonist/composer Abel Mireles dedicates his new recording, Animo, to his father, an important influence and benefactor whose words the younger Mireles uses to inspire his music.
Having grown up in Juarez, Mexico, Mireles and his family experienced life much differently than most of his collaborators. Mireles and his brothers were brought up in a musical household and were drawn to performing. Music was not provided in their schools, so they had to find after school programs to pursue their muse. This is where Mireles met teacher and saxophonist Fortunato Perez, who introduced Mireles to the sounds of jazz and Charlie Parker.
Music became Mireles’s passion and, with his family’s help, he was able to continue his studies at the University of Texas El Paso, where he studied commercial music. Mireles remained in El Paso after graduating, becoming engrained in the local music scene and met his wife, vocalist Candice Reyes, on the bandstand.
While Mireles was in El Paso, his father had retired from his factory job and had become a security guard for a day care center. One day, a drug trade related shooting occurred across from the day care. Mireles’s father witnessed the young shooters and was fired upon, getting hit in the leg. The injury eventually led to a bad turn in his health and, after a few scares, a heart attack took Mireles’s father in 2013.
Mireles’s father had been one of his initial supporters. He had instruments for his sons to experiment on and always had a nurturing word. The title of the album, Animo, comes from a Spanish word that was regularly on his lips, meaning “cheer up.”
In 2015, Mireles and Reyes decided to head east, the saxophonist being accepted into the masters program at William Patterson University. After school, Mireles began to find work as a musician and as a concert/event producer. He even began The Jazz Exchange, bringing jazz programming to young musicians around New York City, Texas, and Mexico.
Mireles put together his own group to perform his music. Bassist Myles Sloniker has been a longtime friend and collaborator, beginning with their Frontera Project six years ago. Mireles has long appreciated the work of pianist Benito Gonzales and began playing with him a number of years ago. Mireles met drummer E.J. Strickland when their gigs crossed over in Mexico City, the two striking up an immediate rapport.
Animo was recorded over the summer of 2021, around the time that Mireles became a United States citizen, at Sound on Sound Studios in Montclair, New Jersey.
The program begins with the blues inflected “Heart Pain,” a pulsating piece written about Mireles attempts to deal with his father’s heart attack. Mireles’s “What To Do” was written when the saxophonist was wrestling with an existential crisis of what to do next in his career. The piece lets the melody ask questions and the ensemble members to respond, giving the answer that music was Mireles’s obvious choice to pursue. Recent study of his native Mexico’s music and rhythms allowed Mireles to discover “Xochipitzahuatl,” an Aztecan song that is used while searching for the promised land, adapted here in a strong modal arrangement with strong rhythmic drive. Mireles’s “Perspective” was written while studying non-triad chords, the ostinato lines providing a dramatic backdrop for solos, including a moving one from the bassist. Sam River’s gorgeous tune “Beatrice” is arranged in a 7/4 against 4/4 time with lyrics and vocal gymnastics provided by Candice Reyes.
The title tune is a beautiful ballad with an air of contemplation, the wonderful connection between Mireles and Gonzales on full display. The following piece posits some simple advice: “Listen.” This striking post-bop number catches ears immediately making it easy to follow Mireles’s father’s admonition of “you just have to listen.” The Romberg and Hammerstein classic “Softy As In a Morning Sunrise” has been a regular in the repertoire of Mireles and Reyes. The tune gets a powerful reworking with Gonzales’s powerful McCoy Tyner-esque modal block chords. Inspired by the false idea of anger motivating the music of musicians like John Coltrane, “Good Angry” generates that energy that is misconstrued as fury but is just passion in expression. Closing the album, “Forgive” takes the same non-triad study to create a terse emotional study on the tough process forgiving someone.
Inspiration and motivation were assets that Abel Mireles was able to access from the words of his father. These messages continue to push the young saxophonist in his life and career. Mireles’s new recording, Animo, is a touching tribute to his father and powerful statement of purpose in his evolving career.
released September 9, 2022
Abel Mireles - tenor and soprano saxophones
Benito Gonzales - piano
Myles Sloniker - bass
E.J. Strickland - drums
Candice Reyes - vocals