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.
Un Systema Para Todo
Jazz is a collaborative art form, but many modern jazz projects form around an individual rather than a group. The bandleader becomes the primary songwriter, the featured soloist, and the project’s public face. The individual musician may have a hired band or even a regular working ensemble, but the bandleader remains the artistic ringleader. Subsequent recordings or performances follow one person’s artistic vision with the other musicians providing support roles. All the musicians may make major contributions, but the individual, not the collective, forges the greater statement. The idea of making a long-term commitment to a group of musicians and collectively building a shared vision and strong musical relationship has sadly become an uncommon occurrence. When a group of musicians follows this collaborative ideal, the results stand apart from other projects. The Detroit based band Tumbao Bravo displays this group aesthetic on their release Un Systema Para Todo with a straight-ahead Latin Jazz set consisting of artistic contributions from each band member.
A Large Number of Compositions From Nacif
Conguero Alberto Nacif provides a large number of compositions to the ensemble. The band explodes into “Un Systema Para Todo” with a bold melody based upon variations of a short rhythmic phrase. Paul Vornhagen exposes the flute’s percussive nature with an energetic improvisation until trumpet player Robert Mojica provides a contrasting statement that includes longer flowing ideas. Pianist Wesley Reynoso reveals a powerful voice that includes intense syncopated phrases and engaging rhythmic tension. After Reynoso crafts a delicate solo introduction on “Victoria,” Vornhagen jumps into a moving line that segues smoothly into an elegant danzon. The rhythm section builds into a driving cha cha cha, providing a perfect foundation for Mojica’s lyrical statement. Vornhagen follows with a solo built on strong melodic and rhythmic development until Reynoso constructs a logical statement, based upon traditional Latin Jazz piano licks. A spacious melody floats over a constant bass pattern on “Habla,” when a series of band hits pushes the group into Reynoso’s energetic solo. Vornhagen’s soprano sax cuts through the thick band texture with fast runs and strong ideas. Mojica delivers a smartly developed solo, leading into a driving montuno for Nacif’s exciting improvisation. The band creates a sly and ominous feeling with a minor melody on “Pushkin, my friend,” contrasted by a quick tonality change and a major melody. As the major chord progression gains momentum, the group evokes the feel of a classic descarga with explosive solos from Vornhagen, Mojica, and Reynoso. After a return to the melody, Nacif displays tradition and dexterity in an inspired statement until timbalero Javier M. Barrios fills between band hits with vigorous enthusiasm. The diversity of Nacif’s compositions both shows the depth of his own background and they provide ample opportunities for band members to demonstrate their skills.
A Complimentary Vision With a Slightly Different Perspective
Vornhagen acts as another guiding voice in the ensemble, contributing a number of compositions. Harmonized flutes from Vornhagen mysteriously float over a 6/8 groove on “Caminos,” contrasted by short bursts of full ensemble sound. Vornhagen displays a refined melodic sensibility on his improvisation, connecting a sea of ideas into a beautiful statement. The band explodes behind Mojica’s enthusiastic solo and then quiets while Reynoso builds his thoughts into a strong expression. The winds and rhythm section trade short phrases on “Ritmo Bravo,” connecting into a complete melodic idea. The band explodes into a no-holds-barred descarga as Vornhagen improvises furiously with conviction. Mojica thrives off the energy, riding the band’s inertia full throttle until Reynoso pushes the band further with intensive polyrhythms. Bassist Patrick Prouty uses a repeated melodic idea to move the band into a comfortable groove on “Sayulita,” leading into a refined and catchy melody. Vornhagen slowly brings his improvisation to a boil with a vast rhythmic vocabulary, followed by Mojica who combines flowing lines and sharp rhythmic accents. After a strong statement from Reynoso, the band allows ample space for bongocero Kevin “Cano” Quiles and Barrios to deliver powerful statements. While Vornhagen’s pieces maintain a stylistic consistency with Nacif, they add a different artistic perspective to the band.
The Fuller Picture of the Artistic Vision
Several other band members explore their musical personalities with compositions. A layered vamp leads into an up-beat and playful melody on Mojica’s “Sharonesque.” Vornhagen’s tenor sax approach adds a bebop flavor to his improvisation, followed by Mojica’s rapid construction and variation of strong ideas. Reynoso reveals a bluesy side to his improvisational voice until Prouty displays a strong sense of melodic invention and musically driven chops. Reynoso delicately provides a rubato introduction on his bolero “Serenata,” followed by thoughtful melodic readings from Mojica and Vornhagen. Mojica’s gift for melodic invention fills his solo with an inspired reflection, accentuated by subtle tonal inflections. Reynoso carefully moves through the changes, spinning strong lines that play off the song’s rich nuances. Stuttering band breaks guide the band into a flowing melody that rings with openness on Prouty’s “Schiphol.” Reynoso contrasts the melody with an active and complex solo, followed by Mojica’s fiery statement. Prouty demonstrates a deep jazz vocabulary with a completely engaging solo, and then the band explodes into an addictive groove for exciting solos from Nacif and Barrios. The inclusion of these compositions adds significant depth to the repertoire, showing all sides of the band.
The Sum of the Parts
Tumbao Bravo’s strong group aesthetic behind Un Systema Para Todo results in an energetic and happily addictive recording. Nacif and Vornhagen’s compositions constitute the majority of the repertoire, providing a consistency and direction to the overall sound. While Nacif and Vornhagen may have provided the structures, there is an apparent enthusiasm among the group members that implies a collective exploration of the final artistic directions. The inclusion of several pieces from Mojica, Prouty, and Reynoso allows greater insight into the full ensemble, and illuminates their subsequent choices as performers. The group plays with a straight-ahead drive that recalls classic Latin Jazz influences such as Mongo Santamaria and Ray Barretto. The concentrated dedication to a shared artistic vision brings a passion to the work, and the group’s professional presentation adds a refined shine. Tumbao Bravo’s exploration of the group aesthetic on Un Systema Para Todo proves that the sum of all its parts equals a powerful whole.
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