Quick and to the Point: Jazz picked at its peak in the sun-drenched tropics: sweet, juicy, and bursting with flavor
Changing Routes is the first production from the Puerto Rican group Julito Alvarado del Sur al Norte. It features eight compositions by Alvarado, as well as his distinctive takes on Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.” and “Stella By Starlight.” In a previous review of the performance of this group in the recording of the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazzfest 2001 , I stated: “Alvarado blows a pretty and steady trumpet that sounds secure and youthfully mature.” Much the same is claimed about his arranging, composition and production views, as gleaned from this superb recording.
The title of the first cut, “Del Sur al Norte” –“From the South to the North” – is also the group’s name. It is based on their shared conviction that their ensemble is a forum for exploring collective musical leadership rather than restricting themselves to familiar supporting roles. They also want to indicate a directional flow for the music and the ensemble itself, starting from the Southern birthplace of Alvarado in Ponce, towards the northern capital in San Juan, from there to the USA and henceforth to Europe. Perhaps there’s no better way to begin such ambitious movement than issuing a call to dance. This first composition features former Willie Rosario singer, Josué Rosado. Here he identifies the group’s mission as a means towards and end: having good times. Alvarado’s trumpet issues the initial Afro Cuban “Diana” –or call– followed by Rosado’s own, as well as soloing from each member of the group, on a jazzy contemporary dance scorcher from the Rumba family.
“Ponce’s Rumba” refers to Alvarado’s birthplace. Ponce has a distinguished musical and cultural record of accomplishment, as Alvarado does in Salsa circles. This tune is urban-cool-salsified-jazz. Alvarado shoots his clearheaded trumpets lines with dominion of several styles and feelings. Díaz manages playfully unique sounds using variously unexplored trombone voicings, finishing with an endearingly strong conga and timbale exchange to close up.
Initially, “4 Months” mellows in and out with molasses-like Afro flavorings featuring Díaz's likable trombone playing. His measured tone and highly intelligent choices give him enough weight to mix well with Alvarado. This tune energizes itself with the trumpet and trombone interchange closing with a tasty coda.
The swinging 6/8 incursion into “Stella By Starlight” would make Mongo Santamaría proud. This time, it is the pianist’s time to shine. Alvarado’s muted trumpet adds a superb touch to the rhythmic drive. Veteran bassist Pedro Pérez suggests himself strongly in this tune too.
Contemporary Changüí stylings seem to lie at the rhythmic bottom of “De Todo Un Poco.” Once the piano montuno kicks in, trumpet and trombone are unleashed on a tight rhythmic bed. Then Trinidad engages the piano with highly successful interplays and imageries. Then all bets are off and trombone and trumpet burn the last drops of the tune. Plenty of mazacote –or swing– here...
As part of a multigenerational lineage of musicians, Alvarado dedicates a tune to his father entitled “Melodía Para Papá.” Senior, in fact, has a toasty clarinet solo in a tune that draws its elegant rhythmic underpinnings from the Danza and Danzón musical families. Trumpet lyricism builds up the ensuing Son Montuno with a gradual fiery transformation. This is an inventive rearranging of familiar Spanish Caribbean musical grounds.
“Bomba Meloza” is an updated jazz piece stemming from the Afro Rican Bomba rhythmic family. Aside from the strength of the arrangement, which gushes energetic tightness, the piano and trumpet solos are straight up and go down sweet on the rocks with lively trombone mellowness.
Although the title “I’m Still Waiting For You” might conjure thoughts of ballads and romance, this tune is hotter and heavier than expected. The electronic piano is a nice change of pace and sound. Horns are plenty here, though. Pérez burns the plucking side of his bass with some nastiness. Check out the coda groove...
Reinaldo de Jesús bristles assorted conga licks in three, perhaps four, drums in “Mr. P.C.” Alvarado has excellent resources for reinterpretations of the jazz canon. This Coltrane composition is heavily Latinized at everyone’s hands. Trinidad’s piano burns coolly, while Díaz assumes a hard blowing position with his trombone. After the mid-tune bridge, “there goes the neighborhood...” Call the cops ¡se formó la rumba!
Although the liner notes list “Comparsa Cristiana” –“Christian Conga”–, the closing for the heated listening of this CD, as clocking 10:36, it doesn’t quite reach half that time. On the other hand, congas, also known as comparsas, are well known Afro Cuban musical expressions long assimilated and restructured beyond their original Cuban confines. Herein the percussive elements are paramount in a novel jazz adaptation of Afro Cuban music and Spanish Christian Evangelical church songs. Alvarado, however, makes sure you remember his trumpet before you leave...
Contact: JUAL MUSIC/P.O. Box 52292/Levittown Station/Puerto Rico 00950. Tel. 787.460-3871. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.