Ray Vega’s Pa’lante
is neither extraordinary, nor ordinary. His sextet has nothing to prove except for the fact that they belong squarely in the midst of mainstream New Yorker jazz with an above average Hispanic zing.
Vega’s trumpet playing is tight and clear-cut, as is all music under his care. As a leader, he elicits the same type of feel and performance from the members of his team, whether live or in a recording studio, and his arrangements and compositions do not lag behind. Those who have attended his gigs would attest to these facts. Those who have not, can hear a live recorded testimony of such claims in the version of “Flight to Jordan,” the opening composition in this date, in the recently released Puerto Rico Heineken Jazzfest 2001 CD. In that tune, the willing sound of the ensemble is clearly established at the outset, giving way to one of many sax delights. Porcelli and Vega complement each other extremely well in tone, feel and attack strategies, as well as vocabulary. Pianist Igor Atalita can walk the walk and talk the talk quite effectively, while Corniel keeps the beat as open as needed without skin abuse. Vega prods himself and the others briefly and effectively as Corniel offers a discerning solo, apparently with three congas, that incorporates some modern touches, albeit keeping himself within older percussive customs better suited to this type of mambo-jazzed musical expression. The arch touch from the bass at the end of the tune is exemplary of Vega’s musical work: touches beyond the obvious that give character to his productions.
“K.D.” is an à la mode low sizzle tune that begins with a guaguancó beat with mainstream jazz edgeways in which Kozlov’s bass marcha, or stride, allows Vega and Porcelli to offer appetizing solos, of which Porcelli’s tend to be freer and looser than Vega’s, which once again complement the trumpet discipline of the date’s leader. Do not mistake discipline with limitation, though...
“Yarbird Suite” is a nod to Charlie Parker that works well within the type of mambo feel that characterizes much Latin Jazz. Porcelli, once again, opens up his sax playing with excellent ideas that weave the percussive take on the composition with unyielding jazz foundations. Vega, as expected, does a superb follow-up to the sax while the time keepers Martínez and Corniel lock in the afinque, or swinging tightness, for Atalita to put the piano through its paces. Porcelli bids us farewell, while we are teased with a guajeo in the piano, and a couple of well-placed conga beats as conclusion.
In “Miles Away,” the ensemble initially mutes its advance with the support of the sweetened deepness of Afro-Cuban batá drums while slowly building up a steady charge in which trumpet, sax and piano take center stage. Miles would be quite satisfied with this one.
“Descarga” is the Spanish term for a jam session. As you can well imagine, this is heated tune in which Vega and Porcelli take turns blowing before a piano plateful puts a smile on your face. While Atalita is having fun with the keys by mid tune, the clarion call is issued for the ensuing guajeo and the able conga drumming of Corniel, giving way to a brief solo incursion by drummer/timbalero Martínez who meshes both well. The crescendo relaxes for a few seconds in order to build up the going away portion of this tune featuring some licks by Corniel in congas.
Lullabies have a special musical appeal that transcends ethnicity or genre allegiance and Vega’s “Melani's Dream” adds a cool chapter to that story. This tune is fine looking and serene, as is the playing throughout. Unfortunately, a final trumpet solo fades and the little that is there beckons a fuller development.
In “El Gaucho,” the piano takes off in its initial jazzy flight as platform for a Vega follow up that works rather well before a brief drumming getaway framing this Wayne Shorter composition in its proficient Vega arrangement that closes with Porcelli and Vega talking well about each other with their respective instruments.
The batá interlude entitled “Primera Oración” or First Prayer, serves as introduction to Vega’s “Prayer of Jabez.” This is an attention-grabbing anthropological twist of events as the batá drums are related to African animistic religious views, as well as to their Afro-Cuban version known as santería . Both analogous human religious developments are considered false religions, or outright demonic, among the fundamentalist expression of Christianity to whom Vega apparently belongs. Although the Afro-Cuban drums used in this production were not sanctified for religious use, the drumming phrasing cannot disengage itself totally from its relation to said African and Afro-Cuban religious context as its modes of expressions, or toques, were conceived as means of communication with such divinities, otherwise known as orishas. Given the fact that the batá drumming language encompasses prayers, rants, divinations, petitions and praises to such divinities, whether they are used in their original sacred function or not, the reconciliation of such “drum talk” with certain types of Christian thinking represents an unexpected development.
The Prayer of Jabez , on the other hand, is part of a biblical passage from 1 Chronicles 4 that has been reinterpreted, and effectively marketed, as a prosperity mantra among a growing number of international conservative Christians who submit to several versions of what is known as “The Gospel of Prosperity.” Less you dismiss such notions as another example of a fringe religious development, African Christian growth, the largest in the world, is pervaded by this notion of biblical prosperity, which is considered heretical by mainstream Christianity.
The musical version of the Prayer of Jabez, however, is one of the best cuts in this CD. An engaging laid back swing will draw anyone in as Vega’s collective and individual sound is epitomized. In it, we also first encounter Kozlov’s bass as a soloist and he is eagerly up to the task.
A production that closes with an eight-minute reinterpretation of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” taking it to a different level, ought to be in your collection. The arched bass introduces a main statement by Vega that quickly gets into a classy treatment of this giant composition. Their farewell to this well mixed, recorded and executed album, features Porcelli and Vega with their likable sound and phrasing eases you out back into reality.
A note of correction on the liner notes: Contrary to the mistaken assertion in the liner notes that “Pa’lante” is short for “Para Alante [sic.],” the title phrase for this release is an apocopated form of the Spanish phrase “Para adelante,” which indicates forward movement. Even “alante” itself, erroneously given as the correct rendition for “adelante,” is apocopated from the same word. Spanish speakers from the Caribbean are given to the use of apocopation . Such a custom is also common in certain regions of Spain, as well as, throughout certain cultures in the world. Apocopation is also common in musical circles, particularly in heavily vocalized musical forms such as Opera.
Contact: For information contact Palmetto Records, Inc. or the Ray Vega homepage .
Personnel: Igor Atalita: piano. Wilson