Don't blame trumpeter Tony Luján for not trying. After several records, he remains largely -and undeservedly- ignored as a leader in spite of being associated with some of New York's best -and youngest- Latin jazz figures. Herein are two brief comments on two of his releases, his latest entitled Tribute and You Don't Know What Love Is. Both releases have a superb staff that issued highly recommended support for Luján's musical visions.
In the latter release, Luján can get quite funky -as in "Mitch N' Miles"- where one finds a rare opportunity to listen to John Benítez laying it down on guitar bass and Edsel Gómez on keyboarded organ. The melodic line is brassy-yet-catchy, with fine danceable possibilities and sustained by impelling, ascending and fast harmonic horn lines. Dafnis Prieto solo avails itself of the driven-funk to display his octopus-like talent.
"Se nota que haz [sic.] llorado" is a luscious ballad that Luján exploits with muted trumpet to great effervescent Latin boppish effect. Gómez's piano performance is to be noted not only because of its inherent sensibilities and touch, but also due to its unrestrained intelligence and placement of chords. Its loungy-Armando-Manzanero-like vocalized version, however, could very well be chalked-up to the "what the hell was he thinking" category.
"The Science Project," "You Don't Know What Love Is" and "Alone in the Crowd" are Afro-Cuban 6/8 bop compositions. All three feature the leader's trumpet playing in great form. His tone, technique, power, range, tempo and dynamic fluency rivals -or simply supersedes- that of somewhat better known trumpeters such as Ray Vega, Charlie Sepúlveda and, certainly, Humberto Ramírez. Of course, he handles the varying chord changes with ease.
"Tiana Tiana" is the mandatory Brazilian cut that features a beefy-yet-breezy ensemble work that epitomizes Luján's approach in this record: easy to get to melodicism that's pumped up enough to please both radio programmers, as well as more conceited listeners that think of themselves as a superior audience because of their testosteronal musical tastes.
"Wicked" and "The Message Within" encompass 20+ minutes of music that offer a different take than the previous material on this release. The personnel is also dissimilar, the setting is more intimate, breathy and sparse, albeit surely not weakened in any sense whatsoever. The first is a mid-tempo mainstream bop piece -with an excellent swing- and the second is freer in nature, although still steeped in bop lingo.
Although a more detailed relation of Luján's musical insights and intentions can be found at LA Ritmo , Tribute is as clear a statement as any attempt at verbalizing them. In it, the trumpet player pays homage to Miles Davis, Freddy Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown, Clark Terry, Kenny Dorham and Dizzy Gillespie. Yes, yet another tribute album. You'd be remiss to miss it though.
Buoyed up by almost exactly the same group of high caliber musicians as in You Didn't Know What Love Is , Luján's newest release is mostly composed of high octane Latin jazz -even in its romantic moments. The leader's sole original piece, "Forever My Love," bears that example rather well. A Cuban danzón accompanied by a live string section and smartly arranged by its conductor, Felipe Salles, serves up an infectiously beautiful conduit for Gómez, Benítez and the leader himself, enamoring one's ears with their simple elegant and deep cadence. Then, when heading into its final two minutes, the heat is ever slightly turned up.
Terry's exquisite ballad "Sheba" is interpreted as a jazzified bolero, with the live string section again in tow. Sax, trombone and muted trumpet come to the passionate fore in this one. Enjoyed while drinking a bottle of Spanish Faustino VII Rioja wine, from its 2000 harvest, after a Summer downpour, as the sun went down in the background of the front balcony, with orchids in bloom in the foreground, I could only muster a demure "gracias" to all musicians involved.
Don't mistake such poetic enjoyment for a lack of appreciation for the more heated and head bopping frenetic moments in this record -which are its bulk. "Intrepid Fox," for example, is witness to the facility all musicians involved in this recording have to take it to next contemporary jazz level with virtuosic ease. Yosvanni Terry initiates the fireworks on tenor sax -as Miguel Zenón also does on alto through both records. He's followed by a fine mainstreamed run by the leader, an equally superb solo by Conrad Herwig -who might very well be Latin jazz's leading trombone player. Gómez effectively takes over midway through the interpretation, leading Prieto and Flores in their lighting fast escape route.
This album has plenty of meat, musicality, great ensemble performances -no musician is wasted or merely taken for granted- and fine fashionable Latin jazz -hell, where else are you going to hear Lee Morgan's "Ceora" à la Venezuela?
Visit Tony Lujan on the web at www.tonylujan.com .
You Didn't Know What Love Is
Personnel: Tony Luján: Trumpet, flugelhorn. Richie Flores: Conga, bongo & percussion. David Sánchez: Tenor sax. John Benítez: Electric & upright bass. Antonio Sánchez: Drums. Luis Bonilla: Trombone. Edsel Gómez: Keyboard & Grand piano. Miguel Zenón: Alto sax. Lenny López: Vocals. Vinnie Valentino: Guitar. Aziz Bucater: Brazilian percussion. On 9 & 10: Tony Lujan: Trumpet. Kei Akagi: Piano. Robert Lockhart: Sax. Billy Mintz: Drums. Ken Filiano: Bass.
Tracks: 1. The Science Project 2. Mitch N' Miles 3. Moontrane 4. Se nota que haz [sic.] llorado 5. You Don't Know What Love Is 6. Tiana Tiana 7. Alone in the Crowd 8. Se nota que haz [sic.] llorado (vocal) 9. Wicked 10. The Message Within
Personnel: Tony Luján: Trumpet & flugelhorn. Conrad Herwig: Trombone. Yosvani Terry: Tenor sax. Miguel Zenón: Alto sax. Richie Flores: Congas, bongo, chequere, shaker, güiro & cowbell. Edsel Gómez: Grand piano. Dafnis Prieto: Drums. Luis Quintero: Djembe, maracas & palo. Roberto Quintero: Cajón. Additional musicians: Felipe Salles: Conductor. Violins: Laura Arpiainen, Anna Basis, E.J. Lee, & Eva León. Violas: Elizabeth Jaffé & Irena Momchilova. Cello: Ren Ariizumi.
Tracks: 1. Nardis 2. Interpid [sic.] Fox 3. Forever My Love 4. Tomorrow's Destiny 5. Ceora 6. Daahoud 7. Sheba 8. Short Story 9. Tin Tin Deo
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