Jaguar Sound
ATO Records

For centuries music has been used to heighten emotion in nearly every art form — poetry, spiritual ceremonies, stage performance, interactive installation — but perhaps none so inextricably as with cinema. A theme from a classic film score can immediately conjure images. But what if it’s a film score for a film that doesn’t exist? Adrian Quesada’s latest release, Jaguar Sound, might help to answer that question.

Jaguar Sound is Quesada’s second release of 2022, following his solo debut Boleros Psicodelicos. While the previous record explored Latin American balladry and retro soul music, Jaguar Sound focuses on a different portion of Quesada’s kaleidoscopic inspirations. Conceived during the pandemic, the album became a means to combine Quesada’s love of hip-hop beatmaker the Alchemist and film composers such as Ennio Morricone and Bernard Hermann. Add to the mix a hearty dose of his psychedelic soul grooves, and Quesada has  concocted 12 instrumentals, each invoking their own musical world while sequentially acting as different chapters in a broader story.

“Reflections with Two Children,” the opening track, is a dreamy 30-second prologue. The sounds of bird songs dance intermittently around an inquisitive vibraphone melody. The echo of each metallic note rings out like ripples across the water of a desert oasis. It’s a sparse but evocative arrangement that tries to recall what’s come before this moment while hinting at what’s to come. The melody spirals down slowly and leads into the theme of the next track, “Noble Metals.”

Here the vibraphone and electric guitar imitate the same melodic line, tightly building tension before expanding into a head-nodding psychedelic groove. A thick walking bass line takes the lead, grounding the electric piano groove, percussion, sweeping strings and sparkling synth lines that reappear and expand throughout the record.

While the flow never ceases, the instrumentation of the record continues to shift in color and tone, seamlessly combining elements of world cinema and retro futurism. “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman” centers around a contemplative finger-picked acoustic guitar lightly dressed with chimes, low end organ, and echoing high-hat hits. On the track “Fireflies,” space-age synth squeals and ’70s organ grooves collide with a thumping funk bass line before weaving in and out of acoustic rhythm guitar and a western saloon piano. The genre-bending slow jam is topped off with searing fuzz guitar solos that recall Funkadelic at their most explorative, while “DG on the Keys” combines a chugging electric piano progression with sweeping strings and angular reverberating guitar lines that would fit perfectly into a spy film.

Equal parts sci-fi fantasy and arthouse western, Jaguar Sound creates its own cinematic vocabulary, drawing upon familiar frameworks and splicing it together with modern musical vibrations. The results are entirely original and expressive, creating a backdrop for a motion picture none of us have ever seen. Maybe someday we’ll be lucky enough to view an actual film scored by Quesada, but until then we can listen to Jaguar Sound and each imagine a movie of our own.

Cover promo photo by Jackie Lee Young (courtesy Shore Fire Media).