The Spotlight Series highlights upcoming Latin Jazz musicians that have yet to reach national recognition. Many of these musicians thrive in local scenes and some tour in support of releases. All these musicians contribute greatly to the overall Latin Jazz scene, and they deserve our “spotlighted” attention.
Deeply exploring early influences helps musicians find their artistic direction within a style, but as they develop, musicians need to balance influences with a personal voice. Learning a favorite artist’s compositions or improvised solos provides a musician with valuable information about performance practice and song construction. After the study ends, the musician needs to perform this music with their own voice; the composition should become a vehicle for their artistic statement. Their decisions about interpretation reflect the depth of the study and the strength of their individual artistic identity. A natural evolution occurs through this process; the original inspiration becomes part of the artist’s voice and it melds with other musicals ideas. After ingesting a variety of influences, the artist emerges as a unique personality with a distinct performance style and compositional approach. Los Gatos reflects upon their influences while demonstrating the results of their study on Insight, a solid statement of traditional Latin Jazz.
A Strong Tjader Influence
A Cal Tjader influence permeates most of the album, reinforced by Claire Fischer compositions that Tjader recorded. Bassist Kurt Krahnke and pianist Brian DiBlassio begin Fischer’s “Huracán” with a strong vamp, which leads into a melodic interplay with vibraphonist Cary Kocher. Sequential development and rhythmic tension shape Kocher’s extended solo until the band drops volume behind DiBlassio. Aggressive playing eventually leads DiBlassio into Palmieri-esque clusters, ending his solo on an exciting note. Sharp band kicks frame Al DiBlassio’s conga solo, allowing him to build his improvisation around quick fills. The distinctive melody and band hits open Tjader’s “Insight,” a popular Latin Jazz classic. Kocher attacks the brisk tempo assertively, alternating between quick runs and montuno figures. Timbalero Pete Siers develops an energetic solo full of classic licks and musical power. Brian DiBlassio’s gentle montuno moves Fisher’s “Novios” from a mellow Cha Cha Cha into a subdued bolero. After a sensitive melodic reading, Kocher builds a thoughtful statement that relies on logical development and references to the melody. The band returns to a more traditional bolero feel on the standard “Tres Palabras,” once again featuring Kocher extensively. His control over the melody and his improvised lines link Kocher to Tjader here, and the band’s unobtrusive support recalls his best bands. The rhythm section builds into a Cha Cha Cha as Kocher transitions into Brian DiBlassio’s short yet effective solo. The band unapologetically displays Tjader’s influence throughout the album, clearly respecting their main influence with strong performances.
Additional Material From More Important Figures
Songs from additional artists fill the repertoire, while the band maintains a consistent performance approach. The bass and congas establish a 6/8 feel on Eddie Palmieri’s “Pancho’s Seis Por Ocho,” giving way to the song’s rhythmic melody. Brian DiBlassio pays tribute to Palmieri with an extended solo that builds from a sparse texture into sharply syncopated lines. His solo soon transitions into a montuno that serves as the basis for a polyrhythmic solo from Al DiBlassio. The rhythm section moves through a variety of time signtures on H. Owen Reed’s “El Muchacho,” while Brian DiBlassio plays a melody reminiscent of Vince Gualardi. The band continues into a solo section over a 7/4 Salsa rhythm, which serves as a foundation for a surprising smooth piano solo. Siers builds his improvisation around a montuno, still in 7/4, skillfully molding classic rhythmic phrases into a different feel. Kocher plays an unassuming melody over a sparse Brazilian feel on Palmieri’s “Samba Do Sueno.” His improvisation takes advantage of the texture, taking the time to both fill the emptiness and explore the space. Brian DiBlassio takes a bluesy approach, leaving lots of spaces between phrases before fading behind the melody. The band establishes an up-tempo feel on Tito Puente’s “Gringo City,” providing a solid environment for a blistering solo from Brian DiBlassio. He builds from short licks into highly syncopated montunos that transition the band into Kocher’s solo. A frenetic assault of notes and displaced rhythms fill Kocher’s solo which tie together logically into an album highlight performance. These piece step away from Tjader’s repertoire and allow the band to explore a variety of approaches.
Highlighting A Different Side With Dance Material
Some pieces include varying amounts of vocals that shift the music’s focus onto a dance experience. Kocher establishes a descending montuno on “Con Su Bataola,” as the band moves quickly into a coro. Al DiBlassio responds to the coro with a series of raspy pregons, full of personality and tradition. Brian DiBlassio and Kocher both deliver short restrained solos, separated by the same coro. A familiar piano montuno over a pachanga rhythm open Mongo Santamaria’s “Tu Crees Que.” Al DiBlassio provides the flowing body of the vocal, until the group frames his voice with a coro. Kocher noodles behind his DiBlassio’s pregon, building into a melodic solo locked deep in the groove. The band jumps right into a bold coro separated by rhythm section hits on “Dime Con Quien Andas,” quickly establishing the pachanga dance feel. Al DiBlassio gets an extensive vocal feature, interspersing the song’s lyric between an arranged piano and vibes interplay. He soon moves into improvised pregons, this time separated by solo fills from Kocher – an interesting variation on the traditional coro structure. As Brian DiBlassio establishes a likable montuno, Kocher quickly plays the catchy melody to Santamaria’s “Manila.” The song moves into a short descarga with brief solos from Kocher and Krahnke, interspersed between coros. The dance repertoire provides a different focus for the band, and allows them to display a different side to their musicality.
Asserting Individuality Among Their Influences
Los Gatos create a respectful tribute to their influences on Insight, while asserting their own musicality extensively. Tjader’s work is represented extensively, both through his own compositions and the work of Fischer, his long-time collaborator. The group’s instrumentation and straight-ahead Latin arrangements of standards also reflect Tjader’s influence. The repeated reference does wear thin at some points, and Los Gatos may benefit from an alteration of the established approach. The use of Palmieri, Puente, and Santamaria songs help diversify the repertoire, and the inclusion of the dance material brings an accessible feel to the album. The overshadowing presence of influences defines the album, but Los Gatos asserts their individuality through their improvisatory skills and a few unique arrangements. Each musician’s solo statement displays a personal voice and their creative exchange brings an artistic unity to the forefront of the album. The group’s professionalism results in a solid recording with an undeniable message about their influences, their artistic direction, and their future growth as an ensemble.
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