Ulises Conti: Atlas

Atlas presents a generous, fifteen-song portrait of the distinguished work Buenos Aires-born Ulises Conti (b. 1975) has produced throughout a ten-year solo career. In actual fact, the recording offers but a sampling of the Argentine composer's output (the Metamusica label, for example, has issued seven of his albums), whose work has been heard in multiple contexts, including film, visual arts, dance, and theater.

He opens the album strikingly with “Cañones ocultos entre las flores,” a plaintive and sparsely arranged setting featuring a French horn as the lead voice. The later “La sed” conjures an exotic vista in first marrying lap steel expressions to acoustic guitar and viola textures, and then, in its second half, re-introducing the French horn. Conti's interest in timbral contrasts emerges even more pronouncedly in “Canción de despedida” when (what appears to be) the high-pitched warble of a bowed saw sings alongside guitar picking.

The solo piano pieces argue strongly on behalf of Conti's elegant playing style and an approach that opts for simplicity over indulgent display. His melodic side comes fully to the fore in “Budapest,” where lilting, high-wire patterns receive low-end support from sprinkling clusters of trills. “El chico de la moto,” on the other hand, takes the listener to a more wistful place, with Conti's elegant arpeggios heard in conjunction with romantic waltz playing that's as bluesy as it is jazz-tinged. The music's evocative quality lends support to the idea of Conti as a natural film composer, especially when a few passages exude a Nino Rota-like character. And speaking of romantic, no track waxes more nostalgically for the golden days of yore than “West Hollywood.”

Some pieces possess a somewhat modern classical character (the explorative “Adivinación en lagos” and “Distancias olvidadas,” both of which feature delicate expressions of strings and piano) on an album that's at times ponderous (“Cuarto suspendido”) and in other moments heartfelt and moving (the chamber music-styled “Luz de un cuerpo”). One would be wrong to think of Atlas as a piano album, given the number of pieces that feature other instruments. It's more—as it's presumably intended to be—a portrait of Conti the composer, and a consistently satisfying one it is at that.

December 2013