Fate deals its own hand. Papo Vazquez and The Mighty Pirates were scheduled to perform at the Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia when an ice storm came by the previous day. And so, a two-hour drive from New York City turned into a five-hour ordeal. One would think that the strains of the journey would tell on the band. But that thought perishes from the moment the first note float in.
Trombonist Vazquez has the innate ability of letting his music breathe and speaking eloquently. It turns on the anvil he calls Afro Puerto Rican Jazz, but he blends in several idioms that make up Latin jazz. More, he fleshes the music with swing and bop, letting the whole coalesce into rich orchestral textures. His skill as an arranger also leaves a soloist enough room to make an impact.
The Mighty Pirates get right down to communicating with the audience. They make it known that they are "Happy to be Here," an up-tempo tune that flies from the reverberating bed of the percussive rhythm. The solos spin into a heady atmosphere, each bringing in a different element that juxtaposes the way in which a tune can be developed and built into a hypnotic document. The horns are agile as altoist Bruce Williams fills the melody with jazz harmonies, getting into the core to find his own well of saturating ideas. Vazquez is in control, he never goes over the top. His ambit is circular, flitting into the tune and kissing it gently. This sits perfectly against the deeper swath cut by tenor saxophonist Willie Williams.
"Pa' Mingus" a tribute to Charles Mingus is a showcase for bassist John Benitez. His phrases are incisive of the mood, yet he never succumbs to aping Mingus. He is a man of his own trajectory, which makes listening to him a constant delight of expectancy. Written in a mainstream jazz mode the soloists, led by Ralph Bowen (tenor saxophone), capture that focus perfectly. Freddie Hendrix (trumpet) loosens molten bop and Jason Marshall (baritone saxophone) stretches the melody and gives it a depth charge. Vazquez has the final say, with light, bouncy lines that dance winsomely in a sunny atmosphere. The orchestration is top-notch, turning this into an extraordinary experience.
"Julia Jibarita" is a bolero aguinaldo. Vazquez is a simmering presence, emotion resonating in every note. He gets solid support from poignant pianist Zaccai Curtis.
Judging from the music, the Painted Bride Center was where the heat was blazing that evening. The cold had been effectively isolated.
Personnel: Bruce Williams: lead alto sax, flute and soprano sax; Robert Landham: second alto sax and clarinet; Willie Williams: first tenor sax, clarinet and 1st mate; Ralph Bowen: second tenor, piccolo; Jason Marshall: baritone sax and bass clarinet; Walter White: lead trumpet, flugelhorn; Albert Leusink: second trumpet, flugelhorn; Freddie Hendrix: third trumpet, flugelhorn; Nelson Jaime: fourth trumpet; Erick Storckman: first trombone; Luis Cruz: second trombone; Reynaldo Jorge: third trombone; Dave Taylor: bass trombone; Zaccai Curtis: piano; John Benitez: bass; Victor Jones: drums; Anthony Carrillo: barril de bomba, pandero, surdo, bongo; Juan Gutierrez: barril de bomba and Guicharo ; Camilo Molina: barril de bomba, pandero, surdo, cua.