The Black Butterflies
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The Black Butterflies

Rosedale, New York, United States

Rosedale, New York, United States
Jazz Latin




"The Black Butterflies "Transforming Imagination""

Indie Life


Transforming Imagination

By Bradley Bambarger

In her native Argentina, where her family raises horses, Mercedes Figueras loved playing her saxophone for the animals, drawing them in close to listen. When she moved to the United States six years ago, the young musician often played for a very different sort of creature: the New York City straphanger.

“The best school for me when I came to New York was the subway,” Figueras says, sitting in a Lower East Side cafe. “You’re down there blowing for hours and hours—it’s like an extended jam session where you have to learn to capture people’s attention, the audience changing all the time. When you make people who aren’t necessarily jazz fans dance or cry—that’s so inspiring.”

While still in Argentina, Figueras recorded Elefante, an album of freely improvised duets featuring her on alto with drummer Martin Visconti, the result of the pair having played together four days a week for two years. At the time, it was a fresh, spirited showcase for a promising (though still developing) saxophonist. Once on the ground in New York, Figueras began performing in William B. Johnson’s Drumadics, Kenny Wollensen’s Himalayas and Karl Berger’s Improvisers Orchestra. Armed with her experiences (and some personal encouragement from Wynton Marsalis), Figueras formed her own band: The Black Butterflies is a groove-oriented, loosely tied ensemble that finds it’s inspiration in the multicultural ’60s sounds of John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Gato Barbieri.

Reflecting on the New York scene, Figueras says, “When I first arrived, I’d go out every night and be amazed. I knew that I could never compete with the technique of the Musicians here. So, because I couldn’t compete, I just tried to be the best me, to express myself. I also realized that you can practice and practice, but you can never play things on your own that other like-minded musicians can spur you to play. The Black Butterflies is about creating music with people who help each other take their imaginations to the next level.”

It was serendipity in the subway that led to the forming of The Black Butterflies. Saxophonist/percussionist Tony Larokko was on his way home to Queens from his job with Consolidated Edison when he was struck by the sound of a sax being played in a downtown subway station. “I heard a real personality, playing off a drummer—and burning,” he recalls. “Once I traced the sound down a few levels, I saw her. I missed four trains home just listening to her play.”

Larokko invited Figueras to play in a show he was putting on, and these two saxophonists separated by decades in age immediately established a rapport. Soon they became cohorts in The Black Butterflies.

Larokko says, “I had a dream way back in the ’60s that I’d be playing music with my daughter. She was never much interested in the saxophone, but all these years later, I found Mercedes.”

Figueras and Larokko—who each switch between soprano, alto and tenor saxes—brought into the group percussionists Fred Berryhill and Bopa “King” Carre, bassist Nick Gianni, and the ever-busy drummer Wollesen, who had met Figueras when they were neighbors in the same building in Manhattan. The Black Butterflies recorded their debut album, 1 de Mayo, as a free-of-charge experiment in a New York University studio with an engineering class. It turned out to be a woolly sounding affair, but it was a learning experience.

Then Figueras—who resides in Connecticut with her husband after living on her own during her initial years in New York—had a baby. The child is the namesake in the title of the band’s latest CD, Rainbows For Ramon. While still rough and-ready, the disc is a step ahead. Rainbows For Ramon features originals by Figueras and Larokko, as well as Karl Berger’s “Together”, George Gershwin’s “Summertime” and Sanders’ “Lumkili” – a definite highlight. Most tunes were cut in single takes, the band playing live in a circle at Skyline Studios in New York (with Levi Barcourt on keyboards). Valuable help came with the worldly generosity of the veteran Berger, who not only added vibes and melodica to the album but also invited Figueras to have the album mixed and edited at his studio in Woodstock, N.Y.

The Black Butterflies get by with a little help from their friends and family. Figueras’ “No. 1 fan” is her husband, a fellow Argentine who works in banking; he funded the production, and they distribute the CD and digital versions of the new album themselves to the major online outlets. With Figueras balancing music and motherhood
(having had a second child), the band plays about one gig per month, from the Shrine world music venue in Harlem to clubs in the East Village and Queens to a children’s festival in Connecticut. The band, now with Rick Bottari on keyboards, is playing March shows in Austin, Texas, at the SXSW Music and Media Conference (March 12–17).

Wollesen, who has played with ever - DOWNBEAT Magazine - March 2013

"The 3 Monkeys"

Published on Apr 17, 2012 by theslummer

The 3 Monkeys, written by Mercedes Figueras

Mercedes Figueras, alto sax
Tony Larokko, perc, alto sax
Nick Gianni, bass
Bopa "King" Carre, congas perc
Rick Bottari, keyboard
Kenny Wollesen, drums, perc

Recording and video by Alex Chaloff
- YouTube

"Rainbows For Ramon"

Published on Apr 17, 2012 by theslummer

Song Written by Mercedes Figueras

Mercedes Figueras, alto sax
Tony Larokko, percussion
Nick Gianni, bass
Rick Bottari, keyboards
Bopa "King" Carre, bongos
Kenny Wollesen, drums

Recording and video by Alex Chaloff

- YouTube

"Balafon Madness: Africa Meets China"

Balafon Madness: Africa Meets China

By Anatole Solomon Larokko III

Balafon Madness: Africa Meets China, is about the spirit of a traveler who starts their journey in the mountains of Africa where the Nile River begins. As the traveler listens to the serenity of the mountains, his spirit starts to rise and it catches the East blowing winds. To their surprise the traveler realises what it feels like to be the wind and goes with the wind to China. Along the way the traveler encounters the spirit of another traveler also riding on the waves of the wind. Still along the way they encounter other spirits traveling. Together they experience many adventure of joy until they reach China. - YouTube

"In Conversation with Saxophonist, Composer, Arranger Mercedes Figueras"

November 7, 2010 by tomas pena Filed under Interviews

From Buenos Aires to Nueva York
Interview conducted by Tomas Peña, October 2010
“If you really want to find a new and exciting saxophonist Figueras is a young musician ready to be discovered.” Doug Simpson, Audiophile Edition (October, 2010)
Introduction: Not long ago I received a promotional copy of the Black Butterflies debut recording in the mail. Intrigued by the striking cover-art, I downloaded the music onto my iPod and listened to the music on the way to and from work. Though I had never heard of the band, nor was I familiar with the artists, the music swept over me like a breath of fresh air. Shortly thereafter I contacted Mercedes Figueras via email and paid her my respects, which led to an exchange of emails and a meeting at a local “Starbuck’s” in Manhattan.
When Mercedes and I met in person the first thought that crossed my mind was, “How is such a small person capable of producing such a LARGE sound?” During the course of my conversation with Mercedes I received the answer to that and many other questions about her life and music. As a music journalist, it gives me great pleasure to lend my support to exceptional new artists who are “under the radar.” Meet Mercedes Figueras and the Black Butterflies, a fresh crop of artists who (I predict) you are going to be hearing a lot from in the years to come.
TP: You were born in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
MF: Yes.
TP: Are there any musicians in your family?
MF: No, my family is not musical, however, my brother and sister liked to sing. My sister took singing lessons.
TP: What prompted you to become a musician, more specifically a saxophonist?
MF: When I was about twelve I taught myself to play the guitar by ear. In the building where I lived there was a guy who played the piano and the saxophone. My sister used to go with his mother to take singing lessons. He didn’t know how to play the guitar, but he offered to teach me the piano or the saxophone. When I saw his saxophone I thought to myself, “Wow! That’s what I want to play!” He played the tenor, but he decided that I should play the alto because I was small and thin. When I asked my parents to buy me a saxophone my father predicted that I would give up in a month. Thankfully, my mother convinced him otherwise. After that I became very serious about learning the saxophone and I enrolled at the Berklee School of Music (Argentina).
TP: At the time how old were you?
MF: I was thirteen or fourteen years old. That’s where I met my mentor, Carlos Lastra, who asked me, “What do you want to learn?” I told him I wanted to improvise!
TP: Like a jazz artist, though I am assuming that you had little to no knowledge of jazz at the time.
MF: To me jazz was Frank Sinatra! Then Carlos gave me a copy of ‘The Very Best of John Coltrane’ and said, “Listen to this.” I listened to that recording so much that I can still sing (and remember) Coltrane’s solos, note for note.
TP: What attracted you to Coltrane’s music?
MF: Mainly his sound.
TP: One of the things that attracted me to the Black Butterflies is your sound. How did you develop such a distinctive sound?
MF: Carlos always told me that sound was the most important thing and I built my sound around that idea. When I perform, record or am in any kind of musical situation I just play myself. I play who I am, I don’t try to impress, I play my heart. In answer to your question, I don’t really know how my sound developed. Perhaps it is because I felt that I could not compete with the great musicians of the past, or even with many of the musicians of today, so the best way to go was for me to be myself. It is my art, my thing and some will like it more than others, but the fact is I am being true to myself.
TP: Getting back to your early years at the Berklee School of Music …
MF: When I started at the Berklee School of Music I listened to and analyzed a lot of jazz standards, however, I did not have a point of reference. I remember buying a Charlie Parker album and thinking to myself, “What do people see in this guy? He’s crazy!”
TP: Byrd was crazy. Crazy like a fox! Who else did you listen to?
MF: Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy, Jackie Mc Lean, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus among others, but Coltrane is my main influence.
TP: After you graduated from Berklee you enrolled at El Conservatorio Nacional (Buenos Aires) where you studied classical music for four years. Subsequently you made your way to New York.
MF: In 2007 I visited New York. That’s where I was lucky enough to meet and perform with Wynton Marsalis at a party in the Hamptons. It was a great experience. The same year I produced and recorded my first album, Elefante (Elephant) with drummer, Martin Visconti.
TP: Tell me about “Elefante.”
MF: The recording consists of eleven free improvisations, all recorded in one take. The arrangements depart f - Latin Jazz Net

"The Black Butterflies: Rainbows for Ramon"

Published: July 4, 2012

Rainbows for Ramon
Self Produced
Judging by its title alone, some might expect Rainbows for Ramon, the sophomore release by The Black Butterflies, to be a flighty affair that trills off into flowery musical fields fit for skipping unicorns. It is not this (thankfully), even though joyful melodic lines feature prominently on the disc. In this case, the album's cover might better serve those looking to make quick adjudication: painter Ima Montoya's image of a bold, bright rainbow arching over a teeming array of Miró-like critters, bustling in a colorful, attractive tussle offers fine visual representation of this percussion-driven music—one that launches desperate shrieks and lullabies alike.
Drummer Kenny Wollesen and percussionists Fred Berryhill and Bopa "King" Carre, with added percussion help from saxophonist Tony Larokko, provide all the roiling, clapping energy heard on the band's debut, 1 de Mayo (Self Produced, 2010). But the departure of electric keyboardist Dan Tepfer and the addition of pianist Levi Barcourt and vibraphonist and veteran avant-jazzer Karl Berger, shifts the band away from the swampy funk groove that warmed much of that first release in exchange for a brighter sound that's both more traditionally Latin and more traditionally jazz.
Berger's composition for the date, "Together," a fairly straight-ahead bop piece, speaks not only to this affinity for tradition while experimenting, not only to the melding of Latin and jazz music (without, it must be said, overdosing on the Latin and propelling the whole into something akin to the mad stasis of salsa), but also to the band's general mode of operation. For while this is, without question, bandleader and saxophonist Mercedes Figueras's show, the music is highly dependent on the interaction of the group's members, especially in duet. Figueras and Larokko are foils on most of the tunes, Larokko's sax often emerging from the percussive bramble to counter Figueras' melodic playing with wilder forays and opening the space for the pair to twist complementary abstractions. The closing track, a Larokko composition titled "Balafon Madness: Africa meets China"—a weighty, nearly 13-minute affair that steadily builds in intensity from its solo chimes opening—offers one of the more intriguing tandems. Larokko is actually on percussion here, playing the wooden keys of the titular balafon, but bassist Nick Gianni shifts to flute, blowing notes that might emerge from any number of indigenous cultures—Asian, African, American—while Figueras fashions intertwining Chinese-flavored melodies from her alto sax.
Yet Figueras' compositions are at the heart of the album, and they swim with an easy lyricism that allows both airy and abrasive readings, and the effortless, flowing transition from one sensibility to the next. The title track, a lullaby of sorts written for Figueras' son, does, in fact, have lyrics—a refrain consisting primarily of the title's words, repeated by male voices to close the piece. While the rest of the melody—what might qualify as the verses—calls out for lyrics either yet to be written or simply left unsung here. "The 3 Monkeys," lifting from voice- and instrument-generated jungle noises, for which the group seems to have a penchant (check out "Yah-Yah" from its debut), links a light, memorable melody with a more terse bridge, that quickly gives way to some of Larokko and Figueras' most heated and abstract tangling (though the piece easily flows back to the melody when the time comes). The melody of Figueras' third composition, "Wind Chimes," is rather more sullen, bittersweet, and appropriately pairs the saxophonist with the chiming, single-noted runs from Berger's vibes.
The band also reaches back into the jazz catalog to cover two tunes from years past—the first a well-worn Gershwin standard, the second, a tangential Pharoah Sanders piece. The latter, "Lumkili," which, appropriately, butts up against the experimental "Balafon Madness," is handled with urgent aplomb, and features Larokko over a sea of storming drums, nice call-and-response interaction between the saxophonists that morphs into impassioned discussion, and perhaps Barcourt's most abstract renderings, though his playing, as elsewhere, continues to feature touches of Cuban bolero. The Gershwin standard is another lullaby: "Summertime." But here the song is played as a cabaret number—an altogether different "hush now, baby." It's launched by Gianni's solo bass, his notes bending deeply into a sultry pulse. Berger's melodica provides a European café feel over a Latin beat, and Figueras and Barcourt both give blues-drenched solos. But it's Figueras' singing that marks the number, when, at the song's midpoint, she turns chanteuse and delivers the opening verse with a thickly accented, Eartha Kitt smolder. It can sound incongruous at first (and may remain so for many listeners), but it's an inventive spin on a cl - All About Jazz

"The Black Butterflies: Rainbows For Ramon (2012"

Published: July 9, 2012

When passion turns into art the effect can be stunning. Saxophonist Mercedes Figueras proves this in her masterful blend of jazz including Latin music, African rhythms and a high-energy dollop of free jazz. What makes it all the more tantalizing is the way in which she and her band scope and enlarge the composition. Figureas plays with great control and direction, but she also breaks loose to turn a tune into a memorable experience.
"Rainbows For Ramon," an ode to her son, dances in on percussion before the saxophone undulates the catchy melody. This is song of exulting joy with Figueras letting the melody blossom and bloom. Nick Gianni's bass provides a thick bottom on which Karl Berger frolics on the vibraphone as he also explores the melody and adds an impressive ambit. The tune is an absolute winner with its Latin rhythm, exquisite arrangement and Figueras showing her masterful control through flowing ideas, fertile phrases and interjections of free jazz.
A steady stream of African rhythms greets "Balafon Madness: Africa Meets China" in gently shifting shapes and pulses. The melody is drawn out on the saxophone in a deep swell that has a Chinese air. Tony Larokko is soon in the company of Figueras whose intensity fires up the space in contrast to the softer, malleable tones of Larokko's soprano sax. With the band locking in, this is another showpiece of how The Black Butterflies transcend genre and form to electrify the atmosphere.
That Figueras can write a mesmerizing melody is put beyond any doubt on "The 3 Monkeys," a ballad that is illustrated by a lingering beauty that emotes every note. The mellow tone of the soprano raises the quotient as it plays over the piano, drums and percussion. The last two are used judiciously to abet this lyrical manifestation even as it rides into the meatier entwining of two horns and a slight edginess that takes it to another plateau.
Rainbows for Ramon is a splendid record from The Black Butterflies.
Track Listing: Intro To The 3 Monkeys; The 3 Monkeys; Together; Summertime; Rainbows For Ramon; Wind Chimes; Lumkili; Balafon Madness: Africa Meets China.
Personnel: Mercedes Figueras: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Tony Larokko: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, percussion; Nick Gianni: bass; Levi Barcourt: piano; Bopa "King" Carre: bongos; Fred Berryhill: djembe, percussion; Kenny Wollesen: drums; Karl Berger: vibraphone, melodica.
Record Label: Self Produced | Style: Modern Jazz
- All About Jazz

"Rainbows for Ramon"

05/20/12 Albums By Nick Mondello

Referencing talented saxophonist Mercedes Figueras’s newest family addition, this collection of musically exotic selections lives up to its name as a multi-colored beauty. Rare as a rainbow’s sighting to have such creative power, improvisational intensity and sense of exultation in a recording, “Rainbows for Ramon” exudes passion, excitement and an intense emotional dynamic across the board. It’s pure, honest fun, too.

The diverse Latin-tinged selections are rhythmically intense, melodically infectious and lean heavily on more world music grooves than straight ahead plays. They offer Figueras and her Butterflies the platform and opportunity to leverage and explore creative areas uncharted. Pulsing rhythmic bases allow Figueras, saxophone cohort Tony Larrokko and the other Butterflies the ultimate in free expression – and they grab on to it with gusto. Need proof? – dig the title cut.

Argentinian by birth and influenced by that country’s marvelous music, as well as by the great Gato Barberi, Figueras approaches her instrument highly artistically - as a painter or sculptor would use their respective tools. She is a fearless explorer, a surpriser never clicheing or boring. She spews sparks and sparkles from each of the instruments she plays on this date and is vocally sultry on “Summertime.” A most able composer, Figueras delivers three original compositions, each with an infectious head, drive and rhythmic underpinning. Her performance here certainly warrants Figueras deserving further recognition as one of contemporary jazz’s most talented artists. She is indeed the rarest of beautiful birds with lineage descended and developed from the ever-evolving and ever-pluming tree of Parker and Coltrane.

The Black Butterflies is comprised of some of New York’s most creative musical artists. Saxophonist Larokko is a perfect woodwind foil for Figueras. The rhythm section is all drive and buys into the effort superbly. This is an ensemble of visceral intensity, creative fire and a no-holds-barred approach to individual or collective (read free) improvisation.

“Rainbows for Ramon” by The Black Butterflies elicits and is sheer joy.
- Jazz Times

"The Black Butterflies – Rainbows for Ramon"

August 26, 2012 · Posted In: Album of the Week, CDs

Label: Self-Published

Release date: June 2012

Reviewed by: Raul da Gama

There is something quite exquisite in a deeply primordial and seductive manner about Mercedes Figueras and The Black Butterflies’ Rainbows for Ramon. This comes from the luscious echo of the gloriously soaring saxophones of Figueras and the growl and wail of Larokko’s reeds.
This is melded in with the lithe and dancing vibraphone of Karl Berger and the glue that holds all of this together is the raw, sinewy percussion mashed in with Kenny Wollesen’s drums and the beating heart of Nick Gianni’s incessant bass. Although the “jungle” effects of the introduction to “The 3 Monkeys” is short, the ghostly rhythmic pattern lasts a long time and in felt like a spirit-backdrop throughout the hypnotic music that follows. This is not only carried on throughout the opening track, but throughout the album, as a matter of fact.

Mercedes Figueras has much to do with the primordial effect that the music has on the listener. Figueras is a singular voice. Her dry, relatively vibrato-less tone is large and all-encompassing. She appears to have a very large pair of lungs and a deep soul. This accounts for the magnificent and larger-than-life tone that gushes past the reeds. Figueras is extremely articulate. She can play angrily and calmly; sadly and joyfully when the script demands it. She can blow a beautiful narrative when the music demands it, or steeped in pure emotion when she is digging deep. Her annunciation is sensual whatever she does and in this respect she owes much to Pharoah Sanders, who appears to be a mentor, for there is no one else she channels when she plays. Remarkably, she plays off a sublimely different spirit: Tony Larokko. The saxophonist is sometimes barely discernably, but upon listening more deeply Larokko’s own voice emerges. Larokko plays with a sonorous, bright tone and is often the sparkling brightness that adorns the songs, especially on “Rainbows for Ramon” and “Wind Chimes”.

There is something else that is absolutely enchanting about Mercedes Figueras’ music. Her melodies are almost deceptively simple and childlike. In reality she navigates a course that is cut like a deep groove in the soul. Figueras digs deep. She does not rely on being pretty although she might sound like that sometime. In reality, she is an extremely soulful musician and everything she does—from the Latin-inflected balladry of “Summertime” to the glorious festivities of “Wind Chimes,” “Lumkili” and “Balafon Madness: Africa meets China” Figueras digs deep and emerges with an overriding soulful swing. This is also beautifully evident on “Rainbows for Ramon,” a superb collision between the polyrhythms of Africa and the polyphonics of European modes. Much of this has to do with the influence of Karl Berger, who looms large not only on his own chart, “Together” but throughout the album as well. Berger adds much colour to the already spectacular and proverbial “rainbow” motif as once again the Black Butterflies and Mercedes Figueras create an album of music that is so different that it is absolutely riveting
- Latin Jazz Net

"The Black Butterflies: Rainbows for Ramon (2012)"


Karl Ackermann
Contributor since 2010
New York based contributor.
Recent articles (49 total)
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Published: June 1, 2012

When she was scarcely into her twenties, self-taught saxophonist Mercedes Figueras recorded Elefante (Self Produced, 2007) a duo recording with drummer Martin Visconte. From this initial effort, it was clear that Figueras is as fearless as she is creative. She neither tames her instrument nor lets it run wild and in the process has invented a style of her own. Her subsequent group—The Black Butterflies— emerged in 2010 with 1 De Mayo (Self Produced, 2010) and the collection was full of originality and promise. Most of that original septet returns as part of Figueras' octet line up on Rainbows for Ramon, and the recording surpasses all expectations.
If there is any temptation to broadly classify The Black Butterflies as Latin jazz, the opening tracks should dispel that perception. The brief "Intro to The 3 Monkeys"—complete with the appropriate nature sounds—and the song itself would be at home on the Serengeti, Figueras's native Argentinean pampas, or in the New York subways where she polished her skills. Like all the pieces on Rainbows for Ramon, there are passages that begin pragmatically but quickly edge toward unfamiliar ground. It isn't aimless wandering but more a restless desire for open spaces.
"Together" opens with a brief swing rhythm but where it goes is anything but standard. New group member Karl Berger quickly takes the energetic lead on vibes before Figueras and fellow saxophonist Tony Larokko layer on dense threads of free flowing improvisation. "Summertime" has been covered hundreds of times over the decades but has never sounded better. At more than ten minutes, the piece opens with concurrent Latin and blues foundations before a more insistent tempo transforms the piece into thoroughly progressive and multifaceted work. At its mid-point, pianist Levi Barcourt injects an infectious solo that transitions the piece to a more forceful tempo. Along the way, Figueras throws in a very brief vocal and her voice is as rich and warm as her tenor sax.
The title track—a dedication to Figueras's son—seems to float in the ether though even here, that same air becomes punctuated by expectation. Berger's vibes nicely mimic "Wind Chimes," an ethereal composition and the most reflective piece on Rainbows for Ramon. In sharp contrast, the cover of Pharoah Sanders' "Lumkili" finds Figueras and Larokko simultaneously engaged in long melodic lines and fiercely improvised passages. The set closes with "Balafon Madness" and, like the opener in this collection, it is a highly engaging mix of nature and invention.
The Black Butterflies is a terrific group of musicians with a great deal of diversity and the synergy of a legacy band. The headline story however, is Figueras's extraordinary ability to compose lyrical and complex pieces and her expressive, searing performances. Full of emotion and brilliantly indefinable qualities, she plays around with the edges of perception and the musicians—and the music itself—follow her. Figueras's Black Butterflies have turned out one of the best jazz recordings of the year with Rainbows for Ramon.
Track Listing: Intro to The 3 Monkeys; The 3 Monkeys; Together; Summertime; Rainbows For Ramon; Wind Chimes; Lumkili; Balafon Madness.
Personnel: Mercedes Figueras: saxophone; Tony Larokko: saxophone and percussion; Nick Gianni: bass; Levi Barcourt: piano; Bopa “King” Carre: percussion; Fred Berryhill: djembe, percussion; Kenny Wollesen: drums; Karl Berger: vibes, melodic.
Record Label: Self Produced | Style: Modern Jazz
- All About Jazz

"The Black Butterflies: Rainbows For Ramon (2012)"

Published: June 10, 2012
Track review of "Summertime"
The Black Butterflies is a Latin free-for-all led by reed multi- instrumentalist Mercedes Figueras, an Argentinean transplanted to New York City. Figueras and band follows up a well- received debut, 1 De Mayo (Self Produced, 2010), with Rainbows for Ramon. Reviewed in capable detail by Dan Bilawsky and Karl Ackermann, Rainbows for Ramon—and, in particular, Figueras' treatment of the Gershwin Brothers' standard—is worth some further elaboration.
Musical sincerity is inversely proportional to synthetic production: the more basic, organic, and authentic, the more musically sincere. Figueras' "Summertime" is a perfect melding of Latin and Tin Pan Alley in the humid ocean air of Southern climes. Introduced by bassist Nick Gianni's elastic vamp, dissolving into a simple three- note figure beneath Karl Berger's melodica, the standard is suspended over an orchestra of percussion that makes it perfectly clear where all influences come from. Figueras' saxophone is feral, with heated abandon that is nothing to compare to when she sings. Those languid, down-south lyrics, sung with a confident, Latin-inflected lioness' purr, are so carnal that the barometer bottoms out and you lose consciousness. Not bad for an old piece of music.
Personnel: Mercedes Figueras: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Tony Larokko: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, percussion; Nick Gianni: bass; Levi Barcourt: piano; Bopa "King" Carre: bongos; Fred Berryhill: djembe, percussion; Kenny Wollesen: drums; Karl Berger: vibraphone, melodica.
Record Label: Self Produced | Style: Modern Jazz
- All About Jazz

"The Black Butterflies: Rainbows For Ramon (2012)"

Dan BilawskySenior Contributor since 2010
Jazz fan, music educator and writer. Recent articles (463 total)
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Published: June 4, 2012

The Black Butterflies' debut, 1 De Mayo (Self Produced, 2010), introduced an ensemble that found beauty in brashness and an all-inclusive recipe for musical creation. The group found its way by liberally mixing free jazz, Latin music, blues, John Coltrane-like spiritualism, primal urges and strong rhythmic elements, giving their music a sense of raw immediacy that's lacking in so many of today's shiny, overly-polished bands.

The architect of this ensemble is Mercedes Figueras, an Argentinean-born saxophonist who came to New York with nothing more than her saxophones and determination. Over the course of her four-and-a-half-years stateside (and counting), Figueras has played subways, tackled Afrobeat with the Drumadics, recorded an album of freely improvised duets with drummer Martin Visconti, taken to the streets with drummer Kenny Wollesen's Himalayas and taken a seat in Karl Berger's Improvisers Orchestra. Her broad-toned blowing—which can become gorgeously gritty and slightly tart on command—is the antithesis of the academia-made saxophonist sound that's so prevalent in today's players; she possesses an unmistakable sonic identity.

The Black Butterflies' sophomore effort continues to build on the melting pot aesthetic that underscored its debut. The band moves from animal-driven anarchy ("Intro To The 3 Monkeys") to sunny melodies ("The 3 Monkeys") without batting an eye, making less-than-normal transitions seem commonplace. Galloping grooves lead to group-based vocals ("Rainbows For Ramon"), glimmering and gorgeous sounds ("Wind Chimes") butt up against the bold and brazen ("Lumkili"), and Gershwin slowly roams through a climate dripping with humidity and percussive dressings ("Summertime"). Figueras comes across as a free-blowing firebrand when walking in the footsteps of saxophonist Pharoah Sanders ("Lumkili") or engages in cutting dialogue with saxophonist Tony Larokko, but she's also a gifted sculptor of melody.

This album, on the whole, has a more mature outlook than its predecessor, but retains the anything-is-possible joie de vivre that made that record so powerful. Berger, who was absent on the debut, comes onboard here and brings a sense of balance and warmth to the frontline with his winning vibraphone work. Cleaner production values and the substitution of pianist Levi Barcourt, who paints within the lines, for Dan Tepfer, who proved to be more of an outside thinker on the prior release, help to give the music greater definition.

Rainbows For Ramon is a spirited, colorful outing that's built on a love for music of all shapes and sizes; it's a rainbow of musical expressions, if ever there was one.

Track Listing: Intro To The 3 Monkeys; The 3 Monkeys; Together; Summertime; Rainbows For Ramon; Wind Chimes; Lumkili; Balafon Madness: Africa Meets China.

Personnel: Mercedes Figueras: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Tony Larokko: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, percussion; Nick Gianni: bass; Levi Barcourt: piano; Bopa "King" Carre: bongos; Fred Berryhill: djembe, percussion; Kenny Wollesen: drums; Karl Berger: vibraphone, melodica.

Record Label: Self Produced | Style: Modern Jazz

- All About Jazz


Still working on that hot first release.



The Black Butterflies Biography

The concept of The Black Butterflies had it’s beginnings on 24 May, 2008 with a “Concert In The Garden” gig at Larokko Manor. The band had a different line up and a different band title. However the core of that band was Fred Berryhill, Mercedes Figueras, and Tony Larokko. On 23 August, 2009 Nick Gianni join the band on a gig at La Terrazza Restaurant and Bopa King Carre joined the band on 19 September, 2009 at a gig at De Santos Restaurant in the West Greenwich Village, New York. It was at this time the name of the band was changed to The Black Butterflies after a painting of three butterflies on the wall of Saxophonist Mercedes Figueras.

We recorded our first CD, 1 De Mayo, with the addition of Dan Tepfer on keyboards and Kenny Wollensen on trap drums on 29 September, 2009 and released the CD in 2010. We replaced Dan Tepfer with Levi Barcourt on keyboards 29 May, 2010 and on 06 November, 2011 we returned to the studio to record our second CD, Rainbows For Ramon. We added Karl Berger to the group on Vibes and Melondica for this recording and has since, become a member of the band. His knowledge in music was a gift and a blessing in disguise and we have all benefited with his addition.

Since 2008 we have performed all over New York City, New York and Greenwich, Connecticut. Through these performances we have grown as a group and our music has grown to inspire our audiences to continue to support us. The description of our group is as follows:

Who are the Black Butterflies? The Black Butterflies are individual who come together from different cultural, ethnical, and geological backgrounds, brought together by spirit to elevate the listener to a higher plain of consciousness with their music. Like the butterfly, who uses its' experience of being born and having to endure survival as a caterpillar from aerial and earth bound predators to morph into the butterfly, we have done likewise. In doing so we have become a group that bring high energy, intensity, and passion to our music that brings about healing. As the butterfly spreads its’ wings in flight it spreads healing and pollination all over the world as it goes from flower to flower around the world, we the Black Butterflies have morphed and spread our wings to bring about the same healing and pollination through our music. So experience the healing and spiritual force of “The Black Butterflies”.