Playing drums with some of the finest musicians around, touring the globe with them, and teaching music can be a lot on the plate of a person fortunate enoughand talented enoughto find themselves in that situation. In fact, that's a solid career.
But for Adam Cruza much sought-after drummer on the New York City scene when he's not touring with Danilo Pérez
or David Sanchez
and doing other projects of that ilkthere was always more. Composing and pursuing his own artistic vision was always important. Now, at age 42, he hopes that is rising to the top.
He never felt the need to rush into leading a band or putting himself out front. But for a couple years he's worked on his very first solo recording. Milestone
(Sunnyside, 2011) emerged as a strong statement and is aptly titled. "It's a big step, an achievement, to manage to finally get something together with my composing and put a record out under my own name," says Cruz. "Milestone
is that type of achievement."
Cruz has already showed his musical prowess by being a member of the Mingus Big Band
in the 1990s, being a key cog in the Pérez trio for more than a decade, and playing with musicians like Chick Corea
, Steve Wilson
, Tom Harrell
, Chris Potter
, Pharoah Sanders
and Paquito D'Rivera
. But the new album is taking him elsewhere. It features eight original compositions, performed by colleagues and friends who are all exceptional. They bring the drummer's compositions to life in wonderful fashion, and that's a dream for Cruz, who says there has always been a composer side to him, ..."who was not getting a chance to live and stay active. It was more in my imagination. Something I was aspiring to do, but not actually doing. It was kind of a calling to do more writing as my career progressed, but I was caught up with all the different groups I've played with and toured with for all these years. This [new CD] was about making time, I suppose."
In more recent years he made a commitment to develop music and with a group in mind. "As it started to come together, it started to be clear to me there was something there. I got to see pretty clearly who I'd want to play. It felt right for a next step, to move into that territory."
The star-studded group includes alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon
, soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson
, tenor saxophonist Chris Potter
, guitarist Steve Cardenas
,pianist Edward Simon
and bassist Ben Street
. They've played together in various combinations and are serious, dedicated musicians. They create superb music on Cruz's recording.
"That's the fortunate thing about being in New York all these years and having the opportunity to play with different people, so many great musicians. I had knowledge of their work. So as I'm writing, it was like, 'Chris would sound amazing soloing on this tune.' Steve Cardenas and Ed Simon, they both have such a fine-tuned sensibility about harmony and taste and I was sure they would sound great together. I don't think they played together ever before; I thought it would be great to put those guys together. Ben Street and I, that was the easiest call because we play so consistently with Danilo Pérez's trio that I know how it feels with him and that he will bring new things to the bass line that I probably couldn't write. Which was great. Miguel and Steve, they're people I've had relationships with. I have a sequencer I work with at home, so as I was listening back and just imagining the music, it was fun plugging in the people in my mind. 'So-and -so would be amazing here.'"
All the musicians involved are in demand, so it was hard to get the recording scheduled. But worth the effort.
The album opens with Cruz laying out the rhythm and Simon comping the chords; Potter and Zenón join in and both play and harmonize the melody. "Secret Life" is off and running and the band forms a creative atmosphere that permeates the entire disk. Potter shows his soaring sense of adventure and burnished sound, while Cardenas' interplay with Simon is a thing of beauty. Zenón and Wilson's statements are always on target, with great expression and character.