Jerry Gonzalez Y El Comando de la Clave (Sunnyside)
Since Jerry Gonzalez changed his base of operations from New York to Madrid a decade ago, the trumpeter and congero has worked with many musicians while seeking a satisfactory combination of players for his own band. In Los Comandos de la Clave, he seems to have found it. This is his most stimulating album since the Fort Apache Band’s Rumba Para Monk in 1989.
In company with Cuban and Spanish players who feel rhythm as he does, Gonzalez unleashes his gusto, propensity for chancy high-wire walking and mastery of melodic improvisation. However important melody and harmony are to his conception, rhythm is at its heart. That is particularly evident on “Obsesión,” “Avisale a mi Contrario” and a stunning “Love For Sale,” but it extends to a treatment of “Tenderly” that honors the implication of the tune’s name while imparting a soft urgency. The fullness of Gonzalez’s flugelhorn sound is vital to “Tenderly’s” success, as it is to “In A Sentimental Mood,” done primarily with percussion accompaniment and vocalese by bassist Alaín Perez. As Gonzalez plays obbligato, the Ellington tune’s final choruses flow through a hypnotic group vocal on the repeated word “sentimiento.” Perez now becomes one of the few electric bassists capable of making me reconsider my reservations about the instrument. The impressive Cuban pianist Javier Masso, known as “Caramelo,” and drummer Kiki Ferrer round out the basic quartet. On selected tracks, vocalist Diego el Cigala, cajonista Israel Suarez (“Piraña”), and Alberto “Chele” Cobo playing clave join the band. Piquant nicknames abound in this group. When he lays down his trumpet or flugelhorn, Gonzalez’s congas are prominent in the percussion section.
For its intensity, power and variety, I would single out as the highlight Gonzalez’s and the Comandos’ thematic and metrical development of John Coltrane’s “Resolution”, but the entire album is a highlight. That’s why I voted for it as 2011’s best Latin album in the recently released Rhapsody critics poll. In the video of an extended performance of “Resolution” that just popped up on the web, the quartet come close to topping themselves.
In the days ahead, I’ll be writing about some of the other CDs that I voted for in the critics poll but have not reviewed.