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Pete Rodriguez: El Conde Negro

Dan Bilawsky By

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Pete Rodriguez isn't a purist. He knows his salsa, as one would expect of the offspring of famed salsa vocal icon Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez, and he knows his jazz. But this trumpeter-vocalist sees no need to draw strong separation between the two. In creating El Conde Negro, Rodriguez mines Nuyorican musical veins and jazz lodes, ultimately mixing his finds together to create a form of music that's loyal to both camps yet highly original and completely mutable.

There's a wonderful balance between muscularity and sensitivity, flowing thought and fragmented gesticulation, and conventional wisdom and idiosyncratic play on this outing. That's due in no small part to the arrangements and the multidimensional personnel that Rodriguez put in place. And of that personnel, much can be said. There may be no pianist better suited to bridge the Latin-jazz divide than Luis Perdomo. He's fluent in languages from both sides of that hyphen and he incorporates graceful streams and hard-edged assertions in his work. Drumming heavyweight Rudy Royston, while rarely venturing into Latin jazz territory, is a chameleon, able to blend comfortably into any musical setting he enters. Both of those players give Rodriguez the edge that this music needs. The final two parts of the equation—percussionist Robert Quintero and bassist Ricky Rodriguez—have been steeped in Latin jazz, each having grown up with those sounds and worked with a long list of notable names. When brought together behind the warm and fluid horn and vocal work of Pete Rodriguez, these men make for a compelling match.

The material on El Conde Negro is split in origin, as the band touches on some of the leader's originals and some material often associated with his late father. The former category includes material with broken lines, mood swings, start-stop takeoffs and solo space ("Stolen Changes"); songs built on choppy thoughts and hard-driving mannerisms ("Perdomo's Blues"); and relatively laid-back tales that culminate with a bit more oomph ("Ten Fe"). The latter category, while looking toward the past in a way, still presents in totally up-to-date fashion. One number marries the dreamy, soft, hip, and refined ("Convergencia"); another gives pause to admire the chemistry between the leader and Perdomo ("Sombras Que Paso"); and a third captures the spirit of the original version while existing firmly in the here-and-now ("Soy La Ley"). With seductive salsa songs, spicy percussive rumbles, tight arrangements, pleasurable vocals, and strong soloing all in play, it's hard to know what to admire most about El Conde Negro.

Track Listing: Soy La Ley; Stolen Changes; Catalina La O; Gravity; Convergencia; Ten Fe; Sombras Que Paso; Perdomo's Blues; Guaguanco De Amor; El Conde Negro.

Personnel: Pete Rodriguez: trumpet; Luis Perdomo: piano, Rhodes; Ricky Rodriguez: bass; Rudy Royston: drums; Robert Quintero: percussion.

Title: El Conde Negro | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Destiny Records

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