Exhilarating Nuyorican-Flavored Jazz from Trumpeter Pete Rodriguez
A critic’s quote from the press release for trumpeter/singer Pete Rodriguez‘s amazing new album Caminando Con Papi (streaming in its entirety at Bandcamp) says something to the extent that Rodriguez is one of the few guys who’ve come out of the Nuyorican salsa world who can play jazz at the highest level. The opposite is also true: there are few jazz players who can play Nuyorican salsa at the highest level, because that requires complete attention to the melody, without cluttering it. Rodriguez – son of famed crooner Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez – inhabits both worlds like it’s second nature. This is an exhilarating album full of spine-tingling yet extremely terse solos and smartly counterintuitive tunesmithing from Rodriguez, accompanied by his Austin rhythm section of Sam Pankey on bass and Daniel Dufour on drums plus the always dangerous Luis Perdomo on piano and Robert Quintero conjuring up a one-man latin percussion army. Not only is this one of the best jazz albums of the year, it’s one of the best albums in any style of music released in 2013.
They open with Ruben Blades’ hit Tambo, alternating a blue-sky calm with biting, chromatic Perdomo riffage, then melding the two beneath a spaciously terse Rodriguez solo and an increasingly electric interweave of rapidfire countermelody as the drums and percussion charge. It ends as it began. Still Searching works what will become a vividly familiar calm/agitated dichotomy, Perdomo artfully implying the clave as he takes it into more contemplative territory before Rodriguez takes a long vector upwards – he may still be searching, but he’s on the right track.
Tick-Tock, a dreamy, resonant jazz waltz, is anything but mechanical, Perdomo’s spacious Rhodes chords anchoring Rodriguez’ lively trumpet, Pankey echoing Rodriguez’ judicious approach when he takes the handoff for his solo. Arlene artfully edges closer and closer to the blues on the wings of Rodriguez’ machinegunning riffage, morphing from swing to funk and then back again as Perdomo scampers with an unselfconscious joy.
The central dichotomy in the darkly lyrical No Lo Queria Hacer is spiraling trumpet versus a brooding backdrop, then they reverse roles with equally chilling results. The dynamically shifting tropical standard Cabildo rises from a pastorale to a romp, Rodriguez using it as a launch, Perdomo as a place to land: “Africa calls to me every day” in every possible way. The title track is a pensive latin soul elegy, Perdomo again adding gravitas against Rodriguez’ energetic attack up to a series of unexpected trick endings.
The harried, rapidfire horn intro of Shut Up And Play Your Horn gives no hint of the warmly lively, scurrying swing that follows, Perdomo on the murky side as expected and powerfully so. It’s Not Over Yet has Perdomo opening with an edgy modality ornamented by gritty bass riffage, Rodriguez introducing a moody calm that he works up to an exhilarating crescendo – it’s the best song on the album. They close with the hard-hitting, percussive El Camaleon, Rodriguez and Perdomo working dynamic contrasts up to a voodoo conga vamp where the two sorcerers unite.