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Before Boperation, trumpeter Ray Vega's second Concord Picante disc as a leader, I knew nothing about the man or his music. But my inattention or inappropriate disregard shifted dramatically within the first few notes of this disc. Even if you've known all along about Ray's previous self-titled disc - or his higher profile work with Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Joe Henderson's big band or the Bronx Horns - Boperation grabs your ears and holds on.
Here, the 38-year-old South Bronx Puerto Rican has lovingly assembled a program in tribute to his trumpet forefathers. The result amounts to a collection of 'trumpet hits' of jazz. The names are familiar: Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Dorham, Fats Navarro, Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Woody Shaw, Art Farmer, Chet Baker, Art Farmer, Donald Byrd and Lee Morgan. Most of the titles are too: "Hub Tones," "Lotus Blossom," "Birk's Works," "Blue In Green," "Whisper Not" and "Mr. Kenyatta."
Most remarkable, though, is the Latin-ized contexts Vega constructs for these gems. Reminiscent of the sound and style of Jerry Gonzalez's superb Fort Apache Band, Vega delivers a true integration where the foundation is bop, the execution relies on any number of authentically Latin soundscapes (songo, Cuban, salsa) and the ultimate fusion of the two inspires the effervescent creativity of the players.
Vega's own style on trumpet imparts the best in his forefather's traits: the crisp, intelligent delivery of Freddie Hubbard, the passionate fortitude of Kenny Dorham, the clean, precision of Woody Shaw and the romantic depth of Chet Baker and Art Farmer. He interacts especially well with reedman Roger Byam as he alternates in sextets, septets and, in one case ("Dark Shadows"), an octet. But as a trumpeter in his own right, Vega deserves attention solely on the dynamic merits he brings to "Hub-Tones," "Daahoud," "Whisper Not" and the especially well-delivered "Mr. Kenyatta."
Guitarist Steve Khan is a notable bellwether of support throughout - most notably on Eddie Henerson's "Dark Shadows" - and a soloist of consummate beauty and skill ("Whisper Not" and "Mr. Kenyatta"). On three tracks, the ever-ubiquitous and musically industrious Joe Locke, who sounds especially compatible with trumpet players (as he proves consistently with Eddie Henderson), is a perfect addition. Listen to the inspired energy he and Vega whip up on a attention-grabbing performance of Woody's Shaw's "Stepping Stones" and the loveliness he brings to both "Whisper Not" and "Dark Shadows." Additional kudos to Vega simply for pairing Khan and Locke together. The guitarist and the vibraphonist make an incisive team - one, I hope, that pursues something more together in the future.
Perhaps, everything old does become new again. Ray Vega has fashioned a nearly perfect tribute here, (skipping Nat Adderley, though, seems unaccountable). Vega offers a thoroughly fresh Latin insight and an inspired and sincere perspective to the trumpet jazz legacy throughout. Boperation is a pleasure and a treasure.
Songs:Hub-Tones (for Freddy Hubbard); Lotus Blossom (for Kenny Dorham; Boperation (for Fats Navarro and Howard McGee); Birk's Works (for Dizzy Gillespie); Dark Shadows (for Eddie Henderson; Daahoud (for Clifford Brown); Blue In Green/Four (for Miles Davis); Stepping Stone (for Woody Shaw); Tangerine (for Chet Baker); Whisper Not (for Art Farmer); Social Call (for Donald Byrd); Mr. Kenyatta (for Lee Morgan).
Players:Ray Vega: trumpet, muted trumpet, flugelhorn, chekre, agogo bells, percussion; Roger Byam: tenor sax, alto sax, soprano sax; Steve Khan: electric and acoustic guitar; Joe Locke: vibes; Igor Atalia: piano; Nick Phillips: keyboards; Bernie Minoso: bass; Vince Cherico: drums, percussion; Wilson "Chembo" Corniel: congas, guiro, chekere, guataca, quinto, wood block, percussion.