El Puente (The Bridge)
Latin Jazz Alive Records
Context means many things to a musician, significantly effecting their ability to develop meaningful statements. On one hand, context might refer to the type of rhythmic foundation placed beneath the music. Different styles demand unique rhythmic approaches that change the musical requirements of the performance. Musicians must phrase differently, structure their improvisations from a distinct perspective, and interact through unique channels based upon the stylistic foundation. On the other hand, context can relate to the music’s instrumentation, ranging from traditional combinations to absolutely unique mixtures. The limits of an artist sitting in a sea of musicians among a big band are quite different than an artist in a small combo. Instrumentations provide both freedom and limits for musicians, allowing opportunities to interact with the individuals around them. The meaning of context changes based upon the conversation, but its impact always stays the same; it effects the musician’s ability to perform at their highest level. Certain contexts play upon a musician’s strengths and they bring out the best in the musician. Other contexts challenge the musician, forcing them to struggle through unfamiliar territory. Strong musicians demonstrate the ability to navigate their way through numerous different contexts, consistently performing at a high level. Vibraphonist Steve Pouchie creates a number of different contexts through smart compositions and arrangements on El Puente (The Bridge), showing strong musicality at all points.
Featuring Guest Artists With A Full Ensemble
Pouchie features a number of original compositions with a full ensemble, bringing several guest artists into the mix. Pouchie provides a melodic vamp over an up-tempo son montuno on “Journey Into Outland,” until a full brass section interjects explosive attacks around melodic phrases from saxophonist Julio Botti. Sharp edged band breaks send Pouchie into an enthusiastic improvisation full of quick runs, followed by a rhythmically engaging solo from Botti. Pianist Adan Perez charges full steam into his improvisation, playing with a rhythmic abandon that inspires response from the rhythm section. Perez provides an uplifting vamp behind Pete Nater’s trumpet embellishments on “The Shores Of Summer,” leading into a catchy vibes melody framed by brass accents. Nater attacks his improvisation with an assertive edge, spinning bop edged phrases through the full range of his instrument over an active montuno. Pouchie grabs the song’s energy and flies into his solo with long rapid lines and short percussive phrases that build upon the band’s momentum. Freely interpreted vibraphone, flute, and saxophone lines float over a spacious guaguanco on “Naomi’s Fantasy,” until the band jumps into a son monunto behind intertwining lines from Botti and flautist Ariel Santiago. Botti mixes long flowing melodic ideas and clave driven rhythmic ideas into a strong improvisation, grounded by musical integrity. Santiago plays upon the percussive potential of his instrument, creating a rhythmic improvisation that leads into an exciting solo from timbalero Erik Piza. These pieces expose the strength of Pouchie’s compositional and performance skills in a large ensemble setting, revealing a powerful voice.
Placing The Vibraphone In A Thin Texture
Pouchie highlights several original compositions that place the vibraphonist in a thin texture, bringing the beauty of his instrument to the forefront. Flautist Andrea Brachfeld emphasizes band breaks with melodic fragments while Pouchie provides flourishes on “Watch Ur Wallet,” before breaking into a longer melodic idea. Brachfeld drives the band into a strong forward motion with a series of propulsive ideas that push cleverly constructed ideas through his instrument’s wide range. Pouchie utilizes his ingenious sense of thematic development to create a cohesive statement filled with energy. Light band attacks open into an airy and colorful texture on “Sands Of Outland,” changing gears into a funky groove colored by a lush melody from Pouchie’s vibes. The rhythm section thins to only Perez, who plays a gentle series of chords behind Pouchie, who carefully improvises around key notes. As the rhythm section bursts back into the groove, Pouchie furiously races into quick runs matching the band’s powerful sound. Little Johnny Rivero skillfully quintos over a 6/8 groove on “Montana De Suenos” before jumping into a driving guaguanco behind saxophonist Ivan Renta’s rhythmic melody. Pouchie builds his improvisation over time, starting with long spacious phrases that grow into fully formed and engaging lines. Renta follows with an energetic statement that runs rapid lines over the active rhythm section, until Barrios contrasts with a classy and understated improvisation. Brachfeld and Pouchie join rhythm section hits around a 6/8 groove on “The Ghanan Trail,” leading into a memorable melody that winds around the groove like a stylistic glove. Brachfeld navigates the rhythm section’s momentum with a confident ease, spurring interactive thoughts with a storm of percussive ideas. The whole group falls into a winding unison line that lands on sharp breaks, providing spaces with a virtuosic display of conga skills from Rivero. These pieces place Pouchie among a smaller group of musicians, where he provides strong support and a bold presence as both a soloist and member of the rhythm section.
Creative Interpretations Of Standards
Pouchie demonstrates his connection to the Latin Jazz world with creative interpretations of several standards. Pouchie breaks the melody to Tito Puente’s “Picadillo” into pieces while each band member inserts quick ideas before the full group jumps into the traditional melody. Renta weaves his cutting tone through the vamp with a clever use of chromatics before Ronnie Puente creates a quietly intensive statement on marimba. An instrumental interlude bursts into an explosive solo from Rivero that climaxes into Pouchie’s furious display of mallet work over a montuno from Renta. The band creates a wild inertia with a driving montuno and aggressive solo from Botti, introducing “Take Five,” which cleverly fits into a son montuno with smartly placed breaks. Botti charges into the addictive vamp with an impassioned flair, creating fiery lines full of edgy chromatic ideas. Pouchie brings an equal of amount of drive into his improvisation, mixing rapid runs with syncopated ideas that push the group forward. An understated vamp from Pouchie quickly bursts into a familiar theme on “Green Dolphin Street,” with Botti and Pouchie sharing melodic duties. Pouchie cuts loose over the well-known standard with jazz fueled ideas, leading into a statement from Barrios, who develops ideas with a smart refinement. The rhythm section leaps into action behind Botti’s aggressive run through the chord changes, leading into an explosive exchange of percussive ideas between drum kit player Jotan Afanador and Rivero’s bongo. Pouchie dramatically moves through the traditional introduction to “Manha De Carnaval” before the rhythm section falls into a bossa nova behind the main melody. Pouchie utilizes space wisely, crafting a melodically rich improvisation that floats smoothly over the groove. Nater builds a smart shape to his solo with wisely applied dynamics, leading into a series of solidly developed themes from pianist Sam Barrios. These pieces display Pouchie’s strong command over traditional settings, as he produces creatively structured interpretations of well-known standards.
Riding Strong Musicianship Through Creative Contexts
Pouchie presents a variety of creative contexts on El Puente (The Bridge) and consequently delivers some inspiring music. His instrument provides a high degree of flexibility that allows him to comp supportively, solo expressively, and take on rhythmic roles. Each one of these tasks demands insightful musicianship though, and Pouchie brings plenty of that into the mix. He fills the texture elengently when placed solely against a rhythm section or when paired with only a flute. He balances his place as a teamplayer in a larger ensemble, stepping in and out of the spotlight as necessary. Pouchie buids each performance around the best musical choices, relying on chops at some points, while preferring restraint at others. His compositions and arrangements form the heart of the album, as Pouchie structures each performance context around ideas that inspire his group. He wisely surrounds himself with some of the New York Latin Jazz scene’s top musicians, insuring some high level performances. Both Botti and Renta play with fire and an insightful knowledge of the rhythmic concept at every turn. Brachfeld provides the perfect match to Pouchie’s vibes, taking turns emphasizing her flute’s light tone or its percussive qualities. Pouchie has given some heavy thought to the musical contexts on El Puente (The Bridge), and he rides a strong sense of musicianship through the recording’s musical settings with confidnece and ease.
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