Nestor Torres showcases the sometimes forgotten jazz flute

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Jazz flutist, Nestor Torres pay homage to classic and modern jazz with his latest CD, “Jazz Flute Traditions.” Torres and his ensemble of musicians chosen for the project play jazz songs that showcase the flute that date from the 1950s to contemporary times.

About Nestor Torres

Puerto Rico native, Nestor Torres has been playing music from an early age. He is the winner of four Latin Grammys, has recorded 14 solo albums and studied jazz at Berklee College of Music and jazz and classical music at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. In addition, Torres learned to play and improvise Cuban Dance Music style, “Charanga.” Listening to his work, audiences can hear a Latin groove at times, even when he is interpreting American classics.

The plight of the flute

For most Americans, the flute is a misunderstood instrument. Even with British rocker Ian Anderson unearthing the woodwind for Jethro Tull’s now-classic sounds, the flute always seems like a surprise. Whether it shows up in jazz or rock and roll, it is as though few people count on hearing flutes beyond grade school bands.

Part of the problem is the perception of the flute’s sound. It is a highest-pitched instrument, and people outside of professional musical realms are not sure what anyone would do with them. Given that modern music is typically amplified via microphones and speakers, this shouldn’t be a concern.

It seems that in recent decades instruments that are simply louder have gained more attention. Flutes have not risen to prominence like acoustic guitars or even harmonicas. Except, when a person such as Torres plays a flute skillfully, then audiences are willing to rethink the flute’s capacity.

“Swingin’ Shepherds Blues”

From song number one, I was impressed with Torres’ virtuosity. The song’s bluesy piano opening makes audiences forget (briefly) that they are waiting on a flute to show up. The flute enters along with the brushed ambivalence of laidback drums. An upright bass makes a nice groove. It is at the opposite end of the flute’s sound spectrum, but the instrument’s rhythm and sound complement each other.

Torres is an emotional flute player, and the instrument comes to life under his control. A live audience responds positively every time Torres rips through one of his flute vamps. The song has a swinging sensibility, hence the title, and is fun to listen to. Those given to dancing would no doubt be able to do that easily to “Swingin’ Shepherds Blues.”

“Memphis Underground”

With so many good songs on this 11-song disc, it is difficult to choose a favorite. Thankfully, I don’t really have to. However, I appreciate what Torres does with “Memphis Underground.” This song warrants as many listens as “Swingin’ Shepherds Blues.”

The swaying, Latin beat is rhythm-laden and encourages movement. Torres plays series of notes that seem to make rings around listeners, the effect is dizzying in an awestruck, pleasant way. The percussion and bass keep time perfect and help make the Latin beat consistent. Torres’ flute sits atop all other instrumentation. It is interesting to hear audiences respond to Torres’ work once everyone catches on to the song’s motifs. Then, when the song breaks down and there is only hand-played percussion and the flute, the tension builds and it is as though the assembled audience is holding its breath to see how far Torres can go with his flute. I doubt he has reached his limit. “Jazz Flute Traditions” is fun to listen to. And, audiences might learn never to underestimate flutes, regardless of genre.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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