Review: NEW MUSIC Cristina Pato’s ‘Migrations’

01.14.13
Cristina Pato
The New York Times

By Nate Chinen

Cristina Pato reaches what sounds like full steam only a handful of times on her perfectly titled new album, “Migrations,” and that touch of restraint feels strategic and knowing. Ms. Pato is a pianist of percussive clarity, and a flutist and singer of warmer, softer effect. But the instrument on which she slays is the gaita, a bagpipe of traditional use in Galicia, her homeland in the northwest corner of Spain. She’s a virtuoso, and when she opens the floodgates of her technique, as she does on an Emilio Solla tune called “Remain Alert,” the force can knock you back a few steps. She knows to use it sparingly.

She also knows, perhaps through her experience in Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, that authenticity and adaptability can be compatible under the right conditions. “Migrations,” with its suggestion of an itinerant and even mongrelized cultural legacy, sets the stage nicely for her: it’s an album suffused with awareness of tradition but breezy about its debts.

The history of the gaita stretches back centuries, into a shrouded antiquity. Its popular resurgence in recent years is less mysterious, involving the pageantry of Galician pipe bands and the easy flair of players like Carlos Nuñez. As if to offer a dose of reassurance, Ms. Pato includes a few folkloric themes here, stacking them near the album’s close.

But she opens with “Muiñeira for Cristina,” an original take on a traditional form, by the Galician accordionist Victor Prieto. It features a sparkling guest turn by the Colombian harpist Edmar Castañeda, and assertive rhythmic work by Ms. Pato’s core band, with Mr. Prieto, the bassist Edward Pérez, the drummer Eric Doob and the percussionist John Hadfield. (She’ll have the same lineup at the Jazz Standard on Tuesday night.)

Ms. Pato is a dynamic improviser, not afraid to use the shrill keen of her instrument as an expressive tool. She has the added benefit of some smart arrangements — by Mr. Solla, an Argentine pianist known for blending jazz and tango — that embrace a kind of world-music utopianism, stirring in tabla, bouzouki and cello. She puts herself forward as an ambassador of this ideal, especially on Mr. Solla’s “Gaitango (A Cristina Pato),” which has her playing gaita and piano, and her own “Rosiña,” featuring flute and vocals.

Her breathy singing, on “Rosiña” as on the bossa-nova standard “Dindi,” is nothing special. But any trace of vulnerability is welcome, on an album that otherwise makes little accommodation for it.