Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Never Mess With a Great Jazz Trumpeter: They Always Get Even in the End

When trumpeter Pete Rodriguez put out his sizzling 2013 album Caminando Con Papi, it seemed a little strange at the time that he would be based in Texas. He grew up as part of the Nuyorican musical intelligentsia. His father was Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez – one of the most individualistic and powerful crooners of the golden age of salsa – and his godfather is Johnny Pacheco. By the time he was in sixth grade, he was in his dad’s band.

How did the scion of such a storied New York musical legacy end up in Texas? He’d taken his family there to escape being racially profiled here. And he’d taken a college teaching job in Austin. Unfortunately, the erudite New Yorker found himself a fish out of water. Tensions rose, and as he tells it on his new album Obstacles – streaming at Sunnyside Records – he was forced out of a job. Long story short: never mess with a composer. They always get even in the end.

And revenge is really sweet here. This record is somewhat more dynamically paced than the nonstop visceral thrills of his last album. The quintet here is as formidable as the bandleader, who’s joined by John Ellis on tenor and soprano sax, Luis Perdomo on acoustic and electric piano, Ricardo Rodriguez on bass and Rudy Royston on drums.

They open with a brisk burner titled 50 – Rodriguez hit the big five-zero running and doesn’t show his age, through this sprint based on Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice. Gone in the blink of an eye? Rodriguez isn’t going out like that, matched by Ellis and Perdomo’s scampering precision.

Rodriguez’s moody vulnerability on the first part of Abraham, a diptych, is chilling, a somber, gospel-infused horn interweave growing over Royston’s stormy clusters. Then Perdomo switches to twinkly Rhodes, although it’s a long time before the pall finally lifts.

El Proceso begins as a soulful, swaying ballad, Rodriguez choosing his spots with a spring-loaded intensity as Perdomo and Royston fuel the upward drive to Ellis’ cheery soprano spirals and a mighty, flurrying coda. Academic Backstabbing 101 is a straight-up dis at a nemesis who believed that Chuck Wayne’s Solar is the toughest piece in jazz; Perdomo and the rest of the band make short work of some similarly trickily syncopated changes and Messiaenic tonalities.

There’s a distantly Monkish, wary sensibility to the low-key simmer of the racewalking Mi Ritmo and the dichotomy of darkly circling bass against percolating sax and piano. Triple Positive has a fond 70s soul influence beneath the syncopation, a tenderly spirited remembrance of someone whose courage never faltered throughout what turned out to be a fatal illness.

Austin & Alley is a briskly vivid vignette of children at play, set to the soberingly phantasmagorical backdrop of encroaching racism. The Clifford Brown version of Gigi Gryce’s Minority inspires the album’s steadily pouncing and swinging title track, the bandleader cutting loose and setting up Ellis’ terse, calm solo as the rhythm section scramble behind him, Perdomo’s brightly romping solo backing away for Royston’s rumbling coda. The band go back to soul-drenched ballad territory for Someone Else, slowly rising around Perdomo’s lingering, summery Rhodes.

The album’s last two cuts are disses. Mary Dick Ellen is a brief, eerily chattering depiction of workplace racism. The hard-charging swing tune FU John begins on a similar note. The sarcasm is priceless, especially when Perdomo gets involved, and way too good to give away. Rodriguez, meanwhile, rises above, unperturbed and carefree. The karmic message here seems to be that ultimately, it set Rodriguez free.

August 10, 2021 - Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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