Puerto Rican-born pianist Edsel Gomez created a significant stir when he first appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, on clarinetist Don Byron's Tuskegee Experiments (Elektra/Nonesuch, 1990). Byron's challenging compositionscerebral yet emotionally resonantrequired players who were conversant with conventional jazz tradition, but equally prepared to go beyond it. Gomez's choppy yet fluidly cohesive style, especially on the idiosyncratically lyrical "Next Love, was the perfect foil for the quirky melodicism of both Byron and guitarist Bill Frisell.
But while Gomez would appear on Byron's followup, Music for Six Musicians (Atlantic, 1995), he was residing in Brazil, which significantly curtailed his North American presencecausing many to wonder just what had happened to this incredibly promising player. He relocated to New York in 1997, and since that time has been increasingly active. He's best known, perhaps, for his work with another young Puerto Rican, David Sanchez, appearing on all the saxophonist's albums, beginning with Obsession (Columbia, 1998), and touring extensively with him as well, including a stop at last year's Ottawa International Jazz Festival.
While Gomez recorded three albums as a leader while in Brazil, none have been released abroad, making his North American debut, Cubist Music, especially auspicious. Like Sanchez and Venezuelan Luis Perdomowhose own debut, Focus Point (RKM Music, 2004), was equally propitiousGomez transcends his own cultural roots without denying them, making Cubist Music an album of contemporary jazz with a specific focus that truly delivers on a long-held promise.
Like Byron, Gomez is a deep thinker, with interests extending beyond music. Cubist Music's premise revolves around a translation of cubist painting techniques to music. Like looking at a Picasso, Gomez's compositions reveal much in the finer details, but step back a few feet and they take on a larger meaning, assuming a greater whole.
While Gomez and his illustrious cast of playersincluding Byron, who produced the disc; saxophonists David Sanchez, Miguel Zenon, Steve Wilson, and Gregory Tardy; bassist Drew Gress; and drummer Bruce Coxget opportunities to stretch, the emphasis is on Gomez's writing and his underlying concept. Instead of lengthy improvisations, Gomez asks his musical cohorts to search for melodic motifs or complete unit patterns called "unitifs, and develop relatively brief solos through contrast and placement.
Gomez's concept creates an inexorable logic that goes beyond the conventional premise of form-based improvisation. Whether on the deep blues of "The Minetta Triangle, the knotty complexity of "NYC Taxi Ride, the visceral swing of "To the Lord, or the melancholy balladry of "Juan Tizol, you can hear the soloists constructing solos out of small fragments that gradually evolvejust as you can hear Gomez's composed themes build the same way.
It's the kind of high art premise that could end up being nothing more than an intriguing mathematical exercise in lesser hands. But with Gomez it becomes much more. Cubist Music is an intense listen that's rewarding on many levels. Gomez has finally made the kind of statement that those familiar with his sideman work would have known was waiting all along.
Personnel: Edsel Gomez: piano; Don Byron: clarinet (2,4,6,7,10,12); David Sanchez: tenor saxophone (4,6,11); Miguel Zenon: alto saxophone (2,5); Steve Wilson: alto saxophone (1,4,12), flute (7,10); Gregory Tardy: tenor saxophone (2,11), bass clarinet and flute (7,10); Drew Gress: bass (1-8,10-12); Bruce Cox: drums (1-8,10-12).