Juan Tigre “Azúl Arriba, Blue Below” (LP)

Juan Tigre’s Azúl Arriba, Blue Below isn’t your typical instrumental collection. It’s full-on progressive for me with strong classical influences any attentive listeners will pick up on. A description like that may prime you to believe Tigre’s eleven songs are stereotypically remote or overly cerebral fare. It isn’t the case at all. The New Orleans based musician, writer, and producer John Maestas, the creative force behind Tigre, has the rare talent for drawing the same compositional depth and emotion out of synthesizers and other related instruments as the best writers do from the guitar, bass, and drums.

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It dances on the cutting edge, however, and conventional approaches are out the window. This is apparent from the first cut “Awaken (New Beginnings)”. Anyone expecting Tigre to come straight out of the gate with an extended cut will be disappointed. Nevertheless, the first track serves as a fascinating introduction for what’s to come. “Dream of Pink and Purple” is one of the peak moments for me as we get possibly one of the most confident tracks on the release. The powerful unraveling of the song has a steady hand pushing it along and the music is alive with color.

“Let the Sunshine In” isn’t long, but it’s one of the most memorable moments on the album. The rhythmic and lively guitar strum at the song’s center doesn’t charge too hard. It’s a nice change of pace after an often emotionally intense, though nonetheless enjoyable, opening group of songs. “A Plea for Peace” is another of the most effective moments on the album. The gradual building of emotion is handled with a thankfully light hand rather than Tigre rushing listeners. Maestas’ patience is a hallmark of his writing and serves him well at every turn. The sincerity of this piece, however, makes it one of Azúl Arriba, Blue Below’s defining moments.

The psychedelicized textures of the collection cannot be ignored. He’s careful never to lean too hard on this style as a creative crutch, however, and what I often hear from Tigre is a spiritual bent. I don’t mean something overt, nothing predictable, but the ethereal vistas he travels through during songs such as “Moebius Trip” are hallucinatory without ever sounding ham-fisted. “Asleep at Sea” has elegant touches of dissonance scattered throughout the cut and they approximate the woozy mood of someone dreaming while sleeping on the water. Listeners, however, can interpret his song titles and meanings in multiple ways.

“Cloud Sailing” is deceptively audacious. Its take on what constitutes percussion is far-flung from your standard long-haired rock drummer and that’s a good thing. Other instrumentation is practically spectral; a tepid breeze could seemingly blow the whole enterprise away. This delicate vehicle, barely holding together, is an excellent way to close the release. It’s a wonderful next step from his debut The Dream Catcher without forsaking any of the qualities that first earned him notice. Azúl Arriba, Blue Below may be challenging for some, but it’s well worth investing your time and money. You’ll come back for more.

Mark Druery