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Luis Bonilla: I Talking Now!

Chris May By

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The exuberant, New York-based, trombonist Luis Bonilla has been recording as leader since 1998, when he released Pasos Gigantes ("giant steps") on Candid. I Talking Now! is his fourth album. But he is still probably best known for his work with other artists. Currently a member of trumpeter Dave Douglas' Brass Ecstasy, Bonilla began the 1990s with trumpeter Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy and has since worked with a string of illustrious leaders including pianists McCoy Tyner and Toshiko Akiyoshi, trombonist Willie Colon and singer Astrud Gilberto. Much of his experience is in big, or biggish, bands and he is a member of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and, under the direction of Arturo O'Farrill, the pianist on I Talking Now!, the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra.

It's a career profile Bonilla shares with the other members of this quintet. All but O'Farrill are known for sideman rather than leader recordings, and all have extensive experience with larger line-ups. Like Bonilla, O'Farrill, saxophonist Ivan Renta, bassist Andy McKee and drummer John Riley are comfortable with the intricate-going-on-tricky charts used on I Talking Now! and each is used to seizing the high ground when it's time to solo. Renta is the relative newcomer, but already the 29 year-old has notched up an impressive work record with straight-ahead and Latin bands.

From Bonilla—who wrote and arranged all tracks—through Riley, this is an ass-kicking band which delivers fiery pieces like "I Talking Now," "Uh Uh Uh," "Fifty Eight" and "Luminescence" with passion and aplomb. Solos are shared equally between trombone, tenor saxophone and piano; bass and drums are in the main concerned with driving things forward, which they do with a power that could propel a space shuttle launch let alone an acoustic jazz quintet. The soloists are more concerned with maintaining cooking heat than extending harmonic boundaries, but O'Farrill introduces enjoyable suggestions of dissonance, in particular on the title track and "Fifty Eight."

The quintet is also at home with more balladic arrangements, and "Closer Still" (inspired by trombonist Bob Brookmeyer's "First Love Song") and "Elis" are among the album's highlights. But the most memorable track is "Triumph," inspired by the late tennis player and AIDS activist, Arthur Ashe. It begins joyously, with supple muscularity, becoming quieter and poignant towards the end. There are touches of electronica, but the chief interest is the ongoing dialog between Bonilla and Renta, which simultaneously evokes an ostinato-driven New Orleans band and one of bassist Charles Mingus' Workshop groups with trombonist Jimmy Knepper. At 5:34 it's one of the shortest tracks, which is a shame.


Track Listing: I Talking Now; Uh Uh Uh; No Looking Back; Closer Still; Fifty Eight; Triumph; Luminiscence; Elis.

Personnel: Luis Bonilla: trombone; Ivan Renta: tenor saxophone; Arturo O'Farrill: piano; Andy McKee: bass; John Riley: drums.

Title: I Talking Now! | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Planet Arts Records

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