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Pianist/composer Edsel Gomez's assured and magnificent debut album Cubist Music is one to file alongside Daniele D'Agaro's remarkable Chicago Overtones, released this past summer. Each presents a strain of vigorous and creative nu-hard bop, in the tradition but also bursting out of it, and each conveys a vivid sense of place. Just as D'Agaro's album could only have been made in Chicago, so Gomez's screams New York.
"Cubist Music" isn't a reference to Gomez's rootshe was born in Puerto Rico, studied at Berklee in the early '80s, and relocated to New York in '97and is instead his description of the aesthetic shaping the album. According to the liner notes, it's an aural version of cubist visual art: composition and improvisation are developed out of juxtaposed "unitifs" or discrete rhythmo-melodic motifs, just as cubist painters used a confluence of juxtaposed geometric shapes to create bigger pictures.
The idea actually does seem to inform much of Gomez's composing (he wrote all the tunes here except for Don Byron's lovely ballad "Molly," performed as a closing piano soliloquy), but like all such cerebral, conservatoire constructs it tends to get forgotten in the instinctive heat of the improvising moment: most of the solos are high-grade motivic. But cubist is as cubist does. What matters is that Gomez has assembled seven other stellar musicians and they all play like motherfuckers.
Whatever the strapline, Gomez is a distinctive, highly original composer. At its most heatedand about half of Cubist Music is pan-friedhis writing has a turbulence and pace which together are quintessentially New York. Close your eyes during the surging, rhythmically off-kilter "NYC Taxi Ride" or "Ladybug" and you're bang on it. He's also adept at quieter, more introspective moods. "West 54th Street Theme," evoking a chilled, after-hours vibe, and "Wolfville," a serene piano trio reinterpretation of Villa-Lobos's "Trenzinho Do Caipira," are gems of more delicate beauty. There isn't a single dud on the album, which keeps you nailed from start to finish.
Until now, Gomez has been best known for his sideman work with Don Byron (three albums from '91-'01) and David Sanchez (three albums from '98-'04). Both contribute to the success of this album, particularly Byron, who produces and whose clarinet is heard, deliciously, on six tracks. But Cubist Music is fundamentally Gomez's creation, and he emerges as an important and commanding bandleader, composer, and improvisor.
Track Listing: NYC Taxi Ride; To The Lord; Wolfville; Ladybug; Juan Tizol; The Minetta Triangle; Coqui Serenade; Empty House; The Adoracion Variations; Harmolodic Collage; West 54th Street Theme; The 3-3 Clave; Molly.
Personnel: Edsel Gomez: piano; Don Byron: clarinet (2,4,6,7,10,12); David Sanchez: tenor saxophone
(4,6,11); Miguel Zenon: alto saxophone (2,5); Steve Wilson: alto saxophone (1,4,12) and
flute (7,10); Gregory Tardy: tenor saxophone (2,11) and bass clarinet and flute (7,10);
Drew Gress: bass (1-8,10-12); Bruce Cox: drums (1-8,10-12).