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Diego Urcola: Viva (2006)

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Diego Urcola: Viva How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

American jazz fans sometimes neglect talented instrumentalists from other countries, and with Viva, trumpeter Diego Urcola reminds us that there are other Argentine horn players besides Gato Barbieri.

Born in Buenos Aires, Diego Urcola began studying music at age nine, eventually earning degrees from Argentina's Conservatorio Nacional de Msica, Berklee College of Music, and the City University of New York. His big break came when legendary Latin jazz maestro Paquito D'Rivera needed a replacement for trumpeter Claudio Roditi. A faculty member at Berklee recommended Urcola, who has now been with D'Rivera for fifteen years. Urcola has also performed with numerous other luminaries.

Recorded in November 2005, Viva is Urcola's third album as a leader, and he refers to the lineup on this session as his "dream band." His sidemen are well-established players and bandleaders in their own right, particularly pianist Edward Simon and bassist Avishai Cohen. Several big names appear as guests, notably Jimmy Heath, Urcola's academic advisor while he was working on his Master's Degree at CUNY. D'Rivera plays alto sax and clarinet on three tracks. Urcola makes no bones about his indebtedness to this mentor, asserting "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for Paquito."

Another longtime friend on this session is Conrad Herwig, a former band mate in the United Nations Orchestra. Calling him a "trombone god," Urcola recounts that while in Argentina with D'Rivera, Herwig met a woman whom he subsequently married. Now fluent in Spanish, Herwig has become "half Argentinian," declares Urcola.

Vibraphonist Dave Samuels, who has worked with Urcola in the Caribbean Jazz Project, appears on two tracks. Samuels points out that while they "all knew each other and some ... had already played together, this particular combination was new, different and fresh." The result is a relaxed atmosphere that nonetheless has a comfortably charged energy—familiar without being rote, experimental yet assured.

Like Barbieri, Urcola integrates the loping, slightly asymmetrical rhythms of the tango into the jazz idiom. All but one of the album's ten cuts (including three by Urcola) were written by Argentine composers: Guillermo Klein, Juan Raffo and Astor Piazzolla. A Latinized version of Heath's "Sound for Sore Ears" partakes in this overall spirit. "I like to bring ... my country into the mix," says Urcola, patriotic while never parochial, "but foremost I'm a jazz musician."

The album opens with Urcola's "Tango Azul." An opening bass vamp with a pleasant 7/4 hiccup leads into a modal vehicle that evokes Kind of Blue. Appropriately, the tune's highlight is a solo by Herwig, known for exploring Miles' Latin side. Another subtle rhythmic experiment is Raffo's "Gringo Dance," a tricky 3/4 piece "with all kinds of different bars added in," according to Urcola. "Blues for Jimmy" features Heath's urbane tenor, and D'Rivera provides two delightful reacquaintances with the clarinet on "40/40" and "Emilia."

Reflective ballads like "El Camino" and "Adios Nonino" nicely balance the up-tempo cuts on this well-produced, interestingly eclectic offering.

Track Listing: Tango Azul; Viva; Afroraffo; El Camino; Blues for Jimmy; 40/40; Sound for Sore Ears; Adios Nonino; Gringo Dance; Emilia.

Personnel: Diego Urcola: trumpet, flugelhorn; Edward Simon: piano; Avishai Cohen: bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums; Pernell Saturnino: percussion; Jimmy Heath: tenor saxophone (5,7); Paquito D'Rivera: alto saxophone, clarinet (3,6,10); Conrad Herwig: trombone (1,4,5,9); Dave Samuels: marimba, vibes (3,8).

Record Label: CAM Jazz

Style: Latin/World


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