Felipe Salles and his new project The New Immigrant Experience isn’t the first time we’ve had a large scale jazz recording that documented the experiences of DACA “Dreamers.” Back in 2018 I reviewed the John Daversa Big Band’s American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom, an equally sprawling composition that went on to win a Grammy. American Dreamers combined music and spoken word pieces from the Dreamers themselves, which was extremely poignant but could be, on occasion, a little too on the nose. Felipe Salles, I believe, goes one step further by relying completely upon his musical compositions to tell the story–at least part of the way.
Felipe Salles, a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow who emigrated to the US from Brazil in 1995, started performing The New Immigrant Experience more than two years ago with the 18-piece Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble . Since then the work has been augmented with videos of interviews Salles conducted with nine Dreamers where they discuss what it was like growing up “bilingual and undocumented.” This new release features two CDs that cover the approximately 90-minute work, and a DVD that shows the performance in its multi-media format with the videos.
I brought up the John Daversa work because it was about an idea. It was about bringing more attention to the plight of the Dreamers amid serious threats to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and about putting individual faces and voices to a divisive issue. Those same noble intentions can be found in the Felipe Salles composition, especially when you watch the DVD, but for me the real treasure is the music, the South American, European and American motifs that blend together and tell a vivid story without the uttering of a single word.
I immediately made an emotional connection to this music because it steps out of the big band jazz norms–it’s more of a jazz orchestra sound with richer instrumentation. Melodies and feelings take the place of the big visceral explosions of music, and the individual solos are so compelling that they become intimate, something you usually don’t hear in a big band environment. That’s where Felipe Salles shines as a composer and arranger, by making the music reflect individual ideas, individual dreams, within the context of the performances of many. This is beautiful, provocative music that makes you think, and perhaps dream of a better time that will happen in the future instead of the past.