Published on 23rd February 2020
Juan Belda & The Bit Band – No encuentro la tónica
Throughout the last few years, I’ve found myself listening to more and more jazz from Spain. Bands such as El Tubo Elàstico and On The Raw have thoroughly impressed me, and now add Canarian Juan Belda and his Bit Band. I was introduced to Juan Belda via this month’s re-release on his Bandcamp site of the 2012 release La Rueda Infinita de Hans – which is gobstoppingly brilliant, so I would absolutely urge you to check it out! From there, I went back to No encuentro la tónica, which was released in December last year – recent enough, I feel, to warrant a review! Especially when it is this brilliant. Juan Belda’s jazz is an eclectic and frenetic affair, and the title track sets the scene for the album nicely, being wonderfully insane (Fifty Years does likewise on La Rueda). I love the drums of Juanjo Orti on this opening number!
I will try not to dwell on La Rueda too much (although as it is being re-released this month on Juan Belda’s new record label, and was my entry point into his music, it is hard for me to avoid). So one last thought in that regard; throughout La Rueda the use of short repeated vocal refrains and voice samples were used to great effect (even including the patter of a salesperson on My New Bathroom!). These are not anywhere as present on No encuentro la tónica, but nor are they missed. There is more than enough going on within the music! For example, the way the two sax players, Jorge Pardo and Pelayo Arrizabalaga seem to almost battle each other in Circus is a joy to listen to.
I’m struck at all times with how timeless the music is, paradoxically evoking classic sounds of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Frank Zappa, and Lizard-era King Crimson, simultaneously with contemporary nu-jazz artists like GoGo Penguin and The Comet Is Coming, and experimental bands like Jaga Jazzist. I’m fairly sure Belda has also been greatly influenced by non-musician Brian Eno, too, as I hear a lot of Enoesque tones. Juan Belda’s jazz is anything but formulaic, and the constant changes in mood and sound are always engaging and entertaining. This is an album of contrasts, making it difficult to define. It’s a complex album, but at the same time accessible, full of layers, and uniting tradition and modernity, jazz, rock, ambient, and electronic music. In Juan Belda I have found yet another amazing and versatile keyboard player to join my personal list of favourites.
After the frenzy of the first two tracks, comes the somehow introspective (yet expansive), spectral Lupita En El Desierto. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful album, but there’s no time to be too calm, as My Name Is Giro Shirato follows, full of energy. It’s also one of the few tracks to feature voice samples on this album, this time recorded by Belda in Tokyo. As with La Rueda, the samples are used to stunning effect, complementing the music more perfectly than it is possible to convey in words – you just have to listen to it. Another voice sample, this time a telephone conversation, forms the background for one of my favourite tracks on the album, El Contrato. After another piece concerning a telephone (this time one not answered), there’s a very short but sweet piece solely played by Belda on guitar and Moog, that is almost Frippertronic.
Nihon takes us back to Japan, and the tapes recorded by Belda in Tokyo which we first heard on My Name Is Giro Shirato. This is, I guess, a sort of electronic reprise of that track, and is again solely Belda’s work. I adore this piece in all its minimalist beauty. It also leads very nicely into, and contrasts wickedly with, the following track Plastic Islands, where the Bit Band is brought back – with full effect! This is possibly my favourite track on the album. Throughout this, and other Belda albums I’ve listened to, I’m often reminded of the band Tuatara, and especially their electronic remix album The Loading Program. Plastic Islands reminds me of this more than anything else. It’s funky, it’s groovy, and it’s delicious. It’s also the last “normal” piece on the album.
The following Sigo Sin Encontrarla is a short and disturbing musical interlude, before a final spoken piece, by Luis Prosper. It’s a rather jarring end, which took me by surprise the first time I heard it. But it’s just one more facet of the all-inclusive nature of Juan Belda’s music. This album, like his previous (those I’ve listened to so far, at least), shows Belda’s love of progressive rock, jazz, electronic, ambient and avant-garde. Or, more simply, his love of music.
01. No Encuentro La Tónica (4:39)
02. Circus (5:49)
03. Lupita En El Desierto (6:35)
04. My Name Is Giro Shirato (4:39)
05. El Contrato (6:05)
06. Nadie Coge El Telefono (4:21)
07. El Rey De La Comedia (1:45)
08. Nihon (3:28)
09. Plastic Islands (6:20)
10. Sigo San Encontrarla (0:57)
11. Prosper’s Own (3:20)
Total Time – 47:58
Juan Belda – Keyboards, Piano, Guitar Synthesiser, Bass, etc.
Jorge Pardo – Saxophone, Flute
Pelayo Arrizabalaga – Saxophone, Bass Clarinet
Ricardo Marichal – Saxophone
Samuel Tarraco – Trumpet
Javier Colis – Guitar
Epi Llorente – Guitar
Enrico Barbaro – Bass
Juanjo Ortí – Drums
Pedro Barceló – Drums
Record Label – Los ‘80 Pasan Factura
Country of Origin – Spain
Date of Release: 12th December 2019