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Diego Urcola: Musical Ecstasy

R.J. DeLuke By

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You might get to that musical ecstasy once or twice a night. Improvised music gives you at least that possibility. That's why you keep trying, every day. To get better, and to get to those rare moments where music takes off.
Jazz music, its freedom and emphasis on self-expression through improvisation, has always had a strong pull on its practitioners, its artists. As fans and listeners, those qualities are also treasured. The infectious nature of those qualities is why jazz fans are passionate and loyal. It's music, born and bred in the United States, that has a fan base that stretches across the globe.

In the case of a certain young musician in Buenos Aires, just a few decades ago, jazz music was a tractor beam that brought him to the United States. To be a jazz man.

"The feeling of what you do when you can improvise. It's a feeling you wanted. It's really hard to leave," says trumpeter Diego Urcola, who had been formally studying music from the age of nine in the Argentine city's Colegio Ward, a school where his father Ruben served as music director. "When you play other kinds of music, you like it because maybe some great writers or composers. But that thing about improvisation is so, so strong. The interaction with other musicians that are improvising with you at the same time. That's jazz. That conversation. That interaction. It's not about swing or Latin or whatever type of rhythm or elements. It's a concept of improvisation and interaction. Spontaneous interaction. That's what really attracts me."

At home, Urcola continued his studies and, in 1988, received the title of profesor nacional de música from the Conservatorio Nacional de Musica. He accepted a scholarship to Boston's Berklee College of Music, and soon joined the New York City scene, playing with all manner of folks, especially Paquito D'Rivera, with whom he still enjoys a fruitful association. He's been Grammy-nominated three times, and Appreciation (Cam Jazz, 2011), largely a quartet disk, tips his hat to some friends and heroes that have influenced him along the way.

Urcola wrote the selections, but the music doesn't showcase composition as much as it does interaction among the stellar band—piano monster Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Eric McPherson, with Yosvany Terry adding chekere percussion on two cuts. The cats are in great form; the man from the Land of the Tango has mastered the American art form.

"When I was in Argentina I was doing all kinds of different gigs. I was doing classical gigs, because at the conservatory I studied classical music. They weren't teaching any jazz over there," he says. He was playing some small jazz gigs when he got the chance. It just wasn't prominent enough at that time, though things are changing for the better in Buenos Aires, for jazz guys.

"When you can communicate that way [through jazz]—straight ahead, Brazilian, Latin, tango, whatever it is—it's such an amazing thing. The music, the way it elevates to unbelievable places. That's a great thing. I'm not talking about style. I'm talking about the concept of how you play. When you have that communication and interaction and you have a soloist and the other guys are playing with him and trying to make him sound as good as he can. It's an amazing thing, musically, when that happens. I think that's what every jazz musician is striving for, that moment of compete musical ecstasy."

Urcola's enthusiasm for the music is deep. "If you play a record date or a concert and you get to that [musical ecstasy] maybe once or twice a night, that's a complete success, a triumph. That's what every musician is trying to experience. Sometimes you get there, sometimes you don't. Improvised music gives you at least that possibility: it might happen. That's why you keep trying, every day. To get better, and to play with people where you have some connection, musically, and get to those rare moments where music takes off."

That purity of spirit is evident on Appreciation, his fourth outing as a leader. "The Natural (to Freddie Hubbard)" is bursting with energy, like the man who inspired it. The band is bopping and loose, with chops on display for all. Urcola is up to the task, his trumpet floating and darting through the changes. "Super Mario Forever (to Mario Rivera)" showcases Perdomo skating busily over the strong rhythmic support, before Urcola jumps in like an acrobat. It also has some room for McPherson's tight drums to step out front.

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