Sylvester Onyejiaka II— otherwise known as Sly5thAve, and Roberto Verástegui’s record show the potential of multicultural jazz. Named after the popular hibiscus tea, Agua De Jamaica is the duo’s first collaborative project. This 45-minute record shows how Onyejiaka and Verástegui bring out the best in each other, creating a contemporary jazz album with strong Latin influences.
The artists cycle through different sounds, not only showing off their sonic variety, but their instrumental capabilities as well. For example, the first track “Tie Break” starts the album off strong with an attention-grabbing funk sound. The nearly seven-minute track prepares the listener for the luscious sound and rich instrumentation that embodies the record.
The title track “Agua de Jamaica” is really where the duo hits their stride. Featuring vocals from Silvana Estrada, the third track on the record is definitely one of the high points. Her beautiful and haunting melisma sounds very smooth over the manipulated percussive loop. The marimba that eventually kicks in compliments her scat singing.
“Ensencialmente” shows the creative capabilities of Onyejiaka and Verástegui, as well as offers a cathartic release. Combative piano chords crash over a driving percussive pulse, which launches the sound into an electronic limbo, and then is pulled back into reality. The variety and structure of this song, coupled with the melodically pleasant saxophone solos, make it one of the most interesting listening experiences of the album.
Another highlight of the album, “La Tormenta,” feels like one of the more digestible pieces of the album for listeners not highly acquainted with electronic-inspired jazz. Literally translating to “The Storm,” this piece does not offer a whirlwind of chaotic sound, but instead a very low-key and anti-climatic melody.
However, these underwhelming feelings do not last long. “El Momento” starts off tame, but then later melts into a dreamy melody of indiscernible instrumentation. The ambiguous noises fade away, leaving only a string orchestra to lead the record into its final tracks. The album finishes with the song “The Wanderer,” where the sounds of a jazz flute send the album fading back into the pulse.
Onyejiaka and Verástegui blend their sounds together to create a refreshing and impressively balanced jazz album. The record is sweet on the ears, but still rich and creative in content. Just like the crimson drink that inspired the name of the album, this collaboration is refreshing but not overwhelming.