Live in Chicago
The intimacy and crystal-clear sound of this recording by composer, drummer, and educator Gustavo Cortiñas puts the listener right on the bandstand or at least in the proverbial first two. Add to that the warmth and sincerity of Cortiñas’ introductions to his compositions, and it makes for a rewarding listen, rife with exciting moments and deeply emotive ones as well. Cortiñas is joined by his long-time sextet – a select group of Chicago-based jazz musicians including trumpeter Drew Hansen, tenor saxophonist Artie Black, trombonist Matthew Davis, bassist Kitt Lyles, and pianist Joaquin Garcia in this double CD offering, Live in Chicago.
The dazzling colorful artwork for the album from Sam Kirk is a fusion between Mexico City and the city of Chicago, and that’s essentially what this sextet celebrates, marrying the jazz idiom with the sounds of the leader’s upbringing in Mexico. The live performance is recorded as heard by the audience at Constellation in Chicago, IL, on the night of December 15th, 2022. There are no edits or overdubs in over 100 minutes of music between the two discs.
The opening “Overture” features ample room for all three front liners with Artie Black especially impressive in his tenor solo while Garcia together with Cortiñas and Lyles put a rhythmic Latin spin on the composition. “Hanaki” is an infectious medium tempo blues with outstanding turns in order from Davis, Garcia, Lyles, and a killer drum solo over Lyles’ sturdy walking bass line. As explained in the introduction, the standout “Wish I Could Be There Now,” is an alternately buoyant and mournful rendering of the leader’s composition dedicated to a friend affected by violence in Mexico. Taken in 7/4 time, the vibrant section comes to a halt around the two-minute mark after which Black launches a deeply emotive, increasingly aggressive Mexican tinged solo while Cortiñas lights a fire on the kit, inviting stirring statements from Davis and Hansen. Never lacking emotion, Black is the featured soloist in “La Balada del Leon,” a tender ballad dedicated to Cortiñas’ father. Capping Disc One is a feature for Hanson as “Arete” is a contrafact of Cortiñas’ reharmonization of “Cielito Lindo,” paying homage to his Mexican roots. Following Hanson’s intro, the band rockets into a 6/8 rhythm with soloists soaring above the propulsive rhythm section, who truly shine on this track.
Cortiñas begins the second set with “Dialectics of Freedom” indicating in his introduction that we are ‘constantly spiraling toward it but often detoured,” a theme that he captures in the rhythms and tone of the piece, which hits many celebratory moments reflected in Hanson’s Mariachi-like trumpet. When the first detour occurs, it’s a somber take with the horns blowing contrapuntal lines with Hanson reaching stratospherically in his solo, as if announcing a battle cry. The piece ends with Garcia’s tinkling notes, suggesting that freedom can be fleeting and evasive. The robust “immature song” as described in the intro “Timing Is Everything” stems from Cortiñas’ second album Snapshot, an energetic romp with the sextet firing on all cylinders, to a rousing finale. “The Man of Flesh and Bone,” written in the desert features a declarative bass intro, followed by a most pensive trombone solo that takes on gorgeous harmonic colors when joined by the other two horns. A similar effect ensues after Hanson’s solo as the piece concludes most gently. The fiery “La Ruta de Regresso A Guinea Esta En El Arcoiris” commemorates the African Rebellion in a brisk 12/8 tempo as Black and Davis trade lines before the whole ensemble conjures a boiling frenzy, only to have Garcia take it out in an unexpected fade. Following the band member intros, final piece “Pax Brittanica” is a feature for the pianist, splashed with inventive ensemble lines from the horns.
The blend of jazz and Mexican folkloric is a rarity, rendered superbly with requisite gusto and delicacy by this fine sextet.
- Jim Hynes
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