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On Boperation, his second release for Concord Picante, Ray Vega pays homage to the pantheon of legendary bop trumpeters from Diz to Brownie, Fats to Miles — and does so with an invigorating Latin twist. In most cases, the songs chosen were not only played by the trumpeters in question but written by them as well. The exceptions are Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” (for Art Farmer), Gigi Gryce’s “Social Call” (for Donald Byrd) and the standard “Tangerine” (for Chet Baker who, unlike the others, seldom wrote anything). Vega doesn’t try to imitate anyone, which would be pointless and also unnecessary, as he’s a superb bop–based player in his own right. This is a high–energy session that embraces the insuperable spirit of these Jazz pioneers, and Vega’s synchronous sextet cooks with gusto throughout. While emphatic rhythms predominate, melody and lyricism are never undervalued, and the music is aesthetically pleasing. Guests Steve Khan (guitars) and Joe Locke (vibes) raise their amiable voices on “Whisper Not” and Eddie Henderson’s “Dark Shadows,” with Khan sitting in again on Freddie Hubbard’s “Hub–Tones” and Lee Morgan’s “Mr. Kenyatta,” Locke on Woody Shaw’s “Stepping Stone.” Dizzy is represented by “Birks’ Works,” Miles by a medley of “Blue in Green” and “Four,” Clifford Brown by “Daahoud,” Kenny Dorham by “Lotus Blossom,” Fats Navarro and Howard McGhee by “Boperation.” Vega chooses trumpet all the way except for “Whisper Not,” on which he nods to Art Farmer by playing flugelhorn (Art, as many Jazz fans are aware, played a hybrid designed for him that he called a “flumpet”). While Vega is the principal soloist, saxophonist Roger Byam and pianist Igor Atalita also receive some space (as do Khan and Locke), and none of it is wasted. One unforeseen benefit of the album is that it reminds us what talented composers most of these trumpet virtuosos also were; these are wonderful songs, splendidly performed by Vega and his colleagues. They’re worth hearing, as is Boperation.
Track listing: Hub–Tones; Lotus Blossom; Boperation; Birks’ Works; Dark Shadows; Daahoud; Blue in Green / Four; Stepping Stone; Tangerine; Whisper Not; Social Call; Mr. Kenyatta (64:16).
Ray Vega, trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion; Roger Byam, tenor, alto, soprano sax; Igor Atalita, piano; Bernie Mi
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.