The South Bronx Story
Carlos Henriquez is best known as the bassist for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, a position he has held for over two decades. Henriquez is also a composer and bilingual artist, stepped in the Latin music of his Puerto Rican heritage. Currently, many acknowledge him as the most important Latin artist in NYC and The South Bronx Story speaks to Henriquez’s roots as he delivers a musical social history retrospective of that part of the borough where he grew up. It’s the same area that produced these legends: Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri and Celia Cruz.
Henriques drew elite musicians to this project including trombonist Marshall Gilkes, saxophonist Melissa Aldana, pianist Robert Rodriguez, drummer Obed Calvaire, trumpeters Michael Rodriguez and Terell Stafford, and percussionist Anthony Almonte together with Jeremy Bosch on flutes and vocals. This is Henriquez’s third album as a leader, and it premiered in 2018 with high praise at Jazz at Lincoln Center. The album marries both his own personal history and the Puerto Rican heritage of the area. Music runs for little over an hour, ten compositions in all.
The opening titular track features extensive solos from Aldana, Gilkes, and both trumpeters with a percolating rhythm section passage that precedes the reprise of the theme. “Hydrants Love All,” written with his brother in mind, paints the classic image of playing among the fire hydrants during the summer heat. It is replete with joyous vocals and a salsa motif. These personal reminisces are interspersed with historical events such as “Borough of Fire” for the burning of low-income buildings during the ‘70s. Another is “Moses on the Cross,” the controversial legacy of Robert Moses and the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway, today’s often jammed portion of 1-95. Bosch, known widely as one of the lead singers in the GRAMMY winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra, alternates between flute and singing here in the mambo section that follows another terrific Aldana solo. “Fort Apache” nods to the NYPD’s 41st Precinct Station House at 1086 Simpson Street in the Bronx and the 1981 movie named for it.
There are nods to significant leaders too. The ballad “Mama Lorraine,” featuring Stafford’s beautiful flugelhorn, is about the life and work of activist Lorraine Montenegro who, along with Evelin Lopez Antonetty, founded the United Bronx Parents but died in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. “Black Benji,” another showcase for Aldana who delivers a Coltrane-esque intro, is for Cornell Benjamin, a peace negotiator among the gangs in the Bronx. Bosch delivers the spoken words while Aldana continues to stretch out throughout the piece.
Returning to the more personal pieces, “Soy Humano” (I Am Human) is about the obstacles Henriquez’s family dealt with in terms of the housing system and finances and it has Bosch singing above terrific piano, percussion, and ensemble horns. “Guajeo De Papi” is about his dad, colored by the exchanges of Gilkes and Rodriguez, Bosch’s tasteful flute, and the only extensive bass solo from the leader. The arousing “Hip Hop Con Clave” with Bosch of vocals above a bed of percussion is another of the distinctly salsa tunes, a joyous ode to the street life.
This outstanding project reflects the importance of Puerto Rican and the Bronx on the jazz and culture of NYC in general, shedding light on the area oft overshadowed by Harlem in projects of this type. Yet, we can’t help but notice the title’s resemblance to the musical West Side Story, which was a 1950s look at Puerto Rican gang life. This project will never reach that one’s lofty stature but is more comprehensive in terms of the Puerto Rican diaspora, teeming with outstanding compositions and astute musicianship throughout.
- Jim Hynes
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