With Just a Word
Saxophonist and composer Diego Rivera has been prolific both as a leader and sideman for Posi-Tone in recent years but on this leader effort, With Just a Word, he augments his typical quartet configuration, inviting trumpeter (and conquero) Pete Rodriguez to form the double horn front line classic quintet. The rhythm section is comprised of mostly the usual suspects with Art Hirahara on piano and Rudy Royston on drums. In-demand bassist Luques Curtis is in instead of Boris Kozlov. Six of these ten are originals alongside interpretations of Gato Barbieri, John Coltrane, Tony Williams, and Kenny Cox. Rivera remains deeply influenced by esteemed bassist Rodney Whitaker and fellow Michigan musicians such as Cox as he continues to progress nicely, especially in his compositions. He has long been a beast on the tenor.
Although Rivera is an ardent student, fan, and practitioner of straight-ahead jazz, his calling card, as a Chicano, increasingly becomes his ability to blend Latin jazz forms with the pure jazz. His album Mestizo is perhaps the best example of such to date but we hear that blend mixed in with the straight-ahead on this project. The opener “Q-Vo” is a popular expression of greeting in Chicano culture. The two horns introduce the head in unison over a driving Latin groove before Rivera digs into his fierce clusters, prompting a blistering trumpet response from Rodriguez, after which Hirahara takes energetic flight, and the rhythm section stirs it up before the front liners return with the quintet smoking to an explosive climax. Requisite calm ensues with “Europa,” penned by Barbieri, but popularized by Santana. After the opening rubato, the arrangement shifts to a romantic bolero at the one and half minute mark before closing with the opening strains. The tune proves a feature for lush tones from Rivera and sparkling piano from Hirahara. “Tinte Latino,’ as English readers likely guessed is “Latin Tinge,” a tune inspired and encouraged by Whitaker, urging Rivera to shape his own style. Again, the full quintet is at full throttle, commencing with a 16-measure chant before morphing to a 7/4 groove with invigorating takes from the front liners, it’s an unrelenting burner. The other Latin influenced tune is the close, “Machete,” an ode to his many mentors who have helped him clear his own path. Fittingly, it has the most distinct Latin, percussion infused tint of these four, with Curtis driving an especially robust bass line underneath the soaring horns as Royston and Rodriguez on congas, stir up a maelstrom before bringing the full quintet to yet another, rousing finale.
The remaining half dozen are split between originals and covers. Original “Once Again, Always” is an uplifting, rollicking tune that owes to his mentors Branford Marsalis and Australian-born Andrew Speight. The title track is a heartfelt, elegiac ballad for Rivera’s late dad, with especially sublime playing both in unison and solo from the horns and a glistening piano break from the ever-reliable Hirahara. Like Rivera, his dad is a graduate of Michigan State University, one the first Chicanos to earn a medical degree. Facing doubters and racial prejudice, his dad always held his head high, and “Dignified Response” is the gorgeous musical expression of such. This is an especially strong performance not only from the leader but by Rodriguez too.
The covers begin with a rare Tony Williams composition for Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet, “Pee Wee.” Unlike Williams’ firebrand reputation, this is a brooding, introspective tune that depicts the quintet playing with utmost restraint. By contrast, the unit fully grasps Coltrane’s modal and heated “Song for the Underground Railroad” emulating the strains of McCoy, Elvin (Royston doesn’t hold back here), Garrison, and of course, the aggressive, spiritually oriented tenor. “Mandela’s Muse” is from the severely underrecognized Detroit pianist Kenny Cox who, among his many projects, delivered two fine Blue Note albums in the mid-sixties under the banner Contemporary Jazz Quintet that had the same instrumental configuration as this group. Curtis’s rumbling bassline gets the locomotive started and the quintet carries through with its consistently clean, exuberant powerful hard bop.
Rivera never disappoints and he takes a leap forward on With Just a Word.
- Jim Hynes
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