Tony Marino – Que Pasa – Album Review
One of the greatest things about music is that you don’t always know what you want to hear until ya hear it – and when you know, you know. I put on this new album by Tony Marino called Que Pasa and instantly found myself locked into one of the most pleasant vibes I’ve experienced this year with a song called “State Street Stroll.” Like I said, I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the exact kind of uplifting sound I really needed – and I immediately connected to the jazzy opener on Tony’s new record. The curious & colorful melody that guides “State Street Stroll” is sunny side up every step of the way; it’s a wonderful gateway into this new record and quite honestly, it’s the kind of tune the world really needs right now. Just a little ditty to take your mind off your troubles and send them blissfully into the magic of music – who wouldn’t want to catch themselves a piece of that at the moment? You know you do! Great piano, bass, and drum connection right from the get-go here…you add in the flute sounds, and the fact that just about everything you’ll hear seems right into the moment and 100% into “State Street Stroll” and you’ve got the whole recipe for success here…I’d be mighty proud of this if I was Tony – the people out there have no idea what they’re in-store for and just how insatiably addictive this song is. Awesome ideas on display, like the breakdown around the 2:15 mark where the flute comes on in for a moment in the spotlight of its own with a solid solo to entertain ya, and the ever-pleasant rhythm alongside it. It’s subtle adventurous and inviting in all the right ways – I pushed play, and it was immediately apparent what I wanted to spend my time listening to – Que Pasa has got a real vibe to it!
And then…all of a sudden, we cruise straight on into an even more decidedly catchy groove with “Schuylkill Expressway” kickin’ out the jams right afterwards! You gotta understand folks – last time around with Marino’s music back in mid-2019, I was listening to an all-tango inspired lineup – so hearing this much of a switch into a set of more adventurous rhythms & grooves with just the right hint of Latin-Jazz sound he does so well in the mix for us…really got me excited about this whole record to be truthful! There are a couple of cuts on this album that would have made for perfect openings to this record, or first experiences with Tony’s music for those that didn’t know it yet – and this is definitely one of the tunes I’d be considering as a single for sure. Universally accessible sound is what we’re talking about here people! “Schuylkill Expressway” has incredible personality, charisma, and energy working in its favor…catchier than you might expect in your Jazz-inspired tunes for sure…this is one lively jam when it comes right down to it. If you can get to the thirty second mark, hear how the music expands, and not be convinced right then & there that you want to absorb every morsel of this tune – just wait another ten seconds and be blown away by the creative threads that tie this whole song together. It might be super-short, but everything happening here shows Tony’s imaginative side in full-bloom – I really loved this tune for that reason…”Schuylkill Expressway” seemed like the man was branching out in the right directions and letting himself loose to wherever the music would take him here, and those instincts, that feeling, that ability to be right there in the moment – that’s what has led Marino to success on this tune.
I will say this…and mind you, this could work out really well in Tony’s favor…you fans of the 80’s/90’s video-game era…you should be paying attention here – because what Marino is doing on these songs like “State Street Stroll” or “Cliff Drive” shortly afterwards, these are tunes that emulate a lot of the soundtracks from your old console cartridges. Like if you can listen to “Cliff Drive” and not briefly have the Mario Brothers cloud-level theme come to mind, did you even play Nintendo bro? And as unlikely as it may seem, and as different as the fundamental ingredients are – it does play in that inviting and curious way that resembles the era faithfully. Beyond that, Tony’s Jazz-disguised here, could very well have a bunch of 8-bit fanatics finding a new source of music they connect with – and believe me when I say, there’s a lot more of those fans out there than you’d imagine! I dig that we get a bit more time with his music when it comes to “Cliff Drive” too…I’m certainly not opposed to shorter tunes, as I’ve already indicated through my praise of the opening tracks – but having a few more minutes with a track like this third one, is A-OK with me folks. Tony makes a genuinely uplifting vibe on “Cliff Drive” that you just want to stick with no matter what…and like, when you start hitting the middle of this tune, you’ll find all kinds of innovative & inventive moves being made that’ll definitely keep you engaged. It makes moments like around the 4:20 mark where he’ll snap back into the main rhythm & groove that much more effective and become a real memorable highlight. It’s like you hear him wander around for a moment or two to have a lil’ bit of fun in experimentation, taking us with him in the process of course…and then he snaps right back into being ultra-professional to bring “Cliff Drive” home every bit as strong as it started.
“Never Ends” was a great shift in the sound on Que Pasa and heightens the tension & drama as it starts immediately. It’s still Marino at the end of the day…and you know this song will make several twists & turns because of that fact…but you’ll instantly notice the direction of sound morph towards a much more serious tone when this song comes around. Definitely not a bad move as far as my ears are concerned…I’d consider this to be one of the more rare environments to find Tony within as far as the shroud of cloudy moods & demeanor this song has, but again, another highly effective shift in the direction of sound that you can’t help but notice. As a result, you’ll likely find that “Never Ends” becomes a completely different kind of vibe unlike any other on the record…and in a way, it’s kind of impressive in itself that it ends up feeling like such an essential contribution to this lineup of songs. The value in adding a new dimension of sound to an album can work out really well when it’s done the right way, and within the low-key grooves of “Never Ends,” I think you’d have to admit that’s what Tony’s managed to pull off with this tune. Awesome to hear this guy flex his creative muscles even further than I’ve experienced in the past when it comes to this whole set-list of songs on Que Pasa – and you really start to appreciate that, the more adventurous his music becomes through testing the waters and exploring new sounds like “Never Ends,” is all taking him down a path to compelling tunes, every time.
Quaint & sweet songs like “Waltz Upon A Time” never really do hang around long enough do they? This tune is like an audible bowlful of sugary melody and humble sincerity…definitely the kind of song I found myself wishing multiple times went on longer than it ever did at just over two minutes in length. Like we always say around these parts though, that’s what the repeat function is for and I’ve certainly been using it! Tony’s music has an immaculate way of taking your mind off the troubles of the world and introducing you to an experience that keeps you engaged, happy, entertained, and always ready for the next tune to come. Production-wise, it’s a bit more raw than the rest with what seems like it could be the rattle of ambient cymbals or a bit of extra air in the background by comparison to the rest of what you’ll find on Que Pasa…but call me crazy, it seems to give “Waltz Upon A Time” a bit of extra humble charm to work its magic on us. I’ll admit…there’s something about “Waltz Upon A Time” that so brilliantly pumps out a nostalgic vibe, that you could wake up dreaming on your couch in a sweater binge-watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood without even realizing it…but as strange as that may seem, it’s actually a reflection of the extraordinary amount of genuinely comforting sound on “Waltz Upon A Time.” Mesmerizing, beautiful, charming, & relentlessly sweet…it’d be impossible not to love this tune.
Songs like “Camino Real” just slide straight out of your speakers and glide around the room while you listen…I know we’re trying to describe music in words here, which is essentially impossible, but you’ll know what I mean when you listen to Que Pasa – this whole record is so likable and playable, I have a feeling I might just wear grooves in the digital copy! I think the melody-lines that Tony’s got running through this song are absolutely fantastic, adventurous, and complex, but still smooth as it gets, and deserving of an award when it comes to the degree of accessibility here. The people out there are going to love the glide through “Camino Real” and just how readily their ears will accept it…like I’ve been saying from the get-go, I bet this record is going to surprise a whole lot of people out there with just how quickly they grow attached to it. “Camino Real” adds major strength to this lineup with its sweet sound and inviting melody engaging & enticing our ears at every opportunity. It IS another one of those Super Mario 3 cloud-level-like free-floating, airy vibes…but c’mon now folks, you gotta admit, this is a mode that always really seems to suit Tony well, as strange as my description of the sound may be. It’s relaxing, it’s chill – but there’s still a ton to keep your attention affixed and genuinely wanting to hear what comes next as you float along with “Camino Real.” Personally, I’m all about it – I could wander around for days happily lost in the hazy fog of the sweet sound this song creates…like, if I started my way across the Sahara desert with this as my soundtrack on repeat, I’d never make it. I mean, I’m not saying I would have made it otherwise anyway – I’m just saying I’d be too distracted by this enjoyable groove of Tony’s to concern myself with finding water like I probably should be in that situation is all.
You tellin’ me that you’re not feeling the vibe of “Gato” somehow? No. No there’s no way anyone wouldn’t get right into the groove of this song instantly, I refuse to believe it! Listen – there have been a lot of great songs and seriously entertaining tunes on this record already so far – and here we are, on track seven, and “Gato” might very well be one of the most immediately enticing tracks of the bunch. The flute/piano combo in the lead is brilliant – but so is what’s happening in the background as well! And then of course, there’s that slick organ hook at the heart of “Gato” too – awesome! It’s unique, it’s fresh, it’s radiant fun – the more I spun my way through this album the more I looked forward to this tune. It’s always tough to nail down what the ‘single’ would be in music that’s typically found outside of the mainstream airwaves like this, but in the day & age of the internet you can really break through by putting a cut like this on YouTube, at least with the album art or something like that. Doesn’t have to be a full-scale video, but having “Gato” as a gateway tune would be a great choice if Tony’s not going with the opening tune to begin with…even if it’s the second single out there, it’s still a good move to promote a song with this kind of strength and allure to bring the people in to listen to the rest. Much like I kind of felt about “Schuylkill Expressway” earlier on, these supremely inventive ideas of Tony’s where he seems to let loose a bit more and explore the boundaries of his sound & push beyond…really seem to be working out well for the man, and I’d highly encourage him to keep on heading in this direction. There’s nothing typical at all about a song like “Gato” – and the amount of allure in its uniqueness can’t be denied. I’m not even remotely kidding when I say that, as I wrote this, my wife literally came into the studio, heard the music and immediately began to get her shake-on; that’s how it is over here at SBS, you hear a song that makes you wanna dance, you dance…”Gato” almost doesn’t give you a choice!
The album’s title-track “Que Pasa,” is arguably another single-worthy contender within this lineup and without a doubt one of my favorite cuts on this record. It felt like Tony really pulled out all the stops here to make this centerpiece of his album stand out the way it should; and within the attention to detail you’ll find and the character present in every layer of the instrumentation, you’ll find the personality in his music shines bright through this whole highly adventurous & ambitious rhythm & groove. Structured to deliver, “Que Pasa” inarguably gets stronger & stronger as it plays…and just as you’re entering the two-minute mark, it’s like whatever chains were left on him go flying off as Tony continuously livens up his title-tune with immaculate ideas and wild melody. He’s saved some spectacular fireworks for this track that have him sounding incredibly inspired all throughout the journey through “Que Pasa” and bring out some of the best in his audible charm. Love the piano around the forty-five second mark, I continually love the groove of the bass-lines…and quite honestly, I really love what an alternative this is to just about everything else out there today – I think that’s an asset for Tony Marino, I really do. AND…if you’re really listening closely to this record, it’s like the guy is hiding auditory Easter-eggs all throughout these songs if you’re listening to the random additions he’ll use in the background of his music on Que Pasa…there’s all kinds of somewhat hidden-gems in these tunes that’ll have you discovering new things about these tracks for years & years after it’s been released.
I’d probably say “Bill And Donna” would likely be the closest call of the bunch when it comes to the stellar lineup of songs on Que Pasa…I was a bit more on the fence with this song and didn’t quite feel that same spark as I did with the other tracks on the album if I’m being fully honest. Tony’s been known to take liberties with the license of Jazz in the past and have the odd cavalier tune that colors outside of the lines occasionally…”Bill And Donna” isn’t quite the extreme version of that, but there are definitely a couple of questionable moments & tones you’ll hear as it plays that don’t seem to really exist anywhere else on this record. Now…it COULD be the pressure of creating a tributary tune of sorts…I don’t know who “Bill And Donna” are myself, but if they’re friends of Tony, obviously he wants to do as right by them as he can in making a song like this. And don’t get me wrong, for the vast majority, this tune comes out intact and you’re still in for a sweet dose of melody that’ll hit the mark for many listeners & fans of Tony’s music…so in the end, in between the honor of having a song written for them and the fact that it came out pretty darn good should at least get the man a high five from his friends for the effort. And…well…if “Bill And Donna” are fictional characters…then…well then forget half of what I’ve just said I suppose. It’s instrumental music people – just imagine and pretend I know what I’m talking about when it comes to whatever the themes, ideas, or inspirations are behind these songs – just go with it ok? Might be a couple of awkward chords or tones that don’t wanna completely play nice with each other, but like we always say, that’s Jazz baby! With so much of this track still working out in Tony’s favor, it’s hard to argue it doesn’t earn its place on Que Pasa, but it’s the only tune on this album that made me stop to think about that for a moment, whereas the rest of this lineup seemed so instantly approved.
Case in-point, “Solstice” ends the record with that innovative spark we’re now craving, because Tony’s given us a whole blaze of ideas throughout this entire record that have really revealed his creativity & musicianship in a fantastic light. So thumbs-up from me…”Solstice” is freakin’ short at just over two-minutes in length, but it brings back the wild melodic abandon I love hearing in Marino’s music and once again, has him sounding fully invested and locked right into the moment. And what a moment it is! I think “Solstice” has the instant advantage of a more bombastic beat & energy to pull us in, and likely one that’s lively enough to jolt anyone back to full attention if they felt that waning a bit during the more gentle & delicate approach to the last song. I’ll say this…I might have been one of’em for a second there…hearing the spirited sound of “Solstice” felt like an instant return to the level of engagement I was seeking out, pulling me in right away with true innovation and undeniably FUN grooves flowing throughout the music from all angles. The flute, which has been amazing throughout this whole record whenever it’s shown up, has another solid highlight here at the end of the album on “Solstice” – and the supremely expressive passion in the piano-playing is right there on display for all to hear once more before it’s all over. The more adventurous Tony has been on this record, the better the results in my opinion – he’s revealed a superhuman amount of accessible sound in the least typical genre you’d probably assume to find it all in…but there’s simply no denying how much this all works and how addictive Que Pasa is. I know I’d personally have a hard time stopping listening to this album…so I don’t plan to! A reviewer’s life is always one album to the next and it all moves pretty quickly, there’s no doubt about that – but this is the kind of music with the uniqueness, skill, and sound, you come back to.
Well done sir.
Find out more about Tony Marino from his official website at: https://tonymarino.us
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