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Luis Bonilla: I Talking Now!

J Hunter By

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The cover art for I Talking Now gives a visual demonstration of how trombonist Luis Bonilla's father took control of conversations at the family dinner table. When things got a little too animated for him, Bonilla's dad would bark out his signature admonishment, "You Chuttup! I talking now!" Both Doctors Phil and Spock would probably take issue with that approach. However, it is, in essence, the same approach Bonilla has taken with his PlanetArts debut.

Along with being part of the many-headed monster called the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Bonilla has worked with Lincoln Center's Alfredo De La Fé and the Mingus Big Band. All these experiences come together spectacularly here, as Bonilla merges Latin and urban aesthetics with Charles Mingus' tradition of making a relatively small unit sound like an army. As a result, Talking is a knock-down, drag-em-out, attention-snatching brawler... with a heart of gold at its center.

The brawling element becomes evident in the first three seconds of the opening title track, as pianist Arturo O'Farrill and drummer John Riley are broadsided by a joint primal scream from Bonilla and saxman Ivan Renta. That's the starting gun for a multi-voiced musical argument that could easily pass for a bar fight. Bonilla's trombone comes on like gangbusters, blasting out a litany of notes and progressions that would stun a charging rhino. Renta isn't having any of it, though, breaking off onto his own musical rant while Riley urges him on. O'Farrill's sound is cooler, though no less passionate—in fact, his right hand eventually starts fighting with his left! Bassist Andy McKee gets his licks in, too, firing off a solo towards the piece's end that may be soft, but its message is as strong as Bonilla's roar.

McKee asserts himself again on "No Looking Back," breaking up its pastoral intro with a touch of rumbling reality. The aggression on Talking is as Noo Yawk as it gets, with "Uh, Uh, Uh..." even bringing the city itself onstage. The band musically simulates the sound and spirit of the Big Apple, with Bonilla and Renta engaging in frenetic dialogue, O'Farrill's counter another country heard from, and all of them seemingly unmindful of the bustling metropolis surrounding them. The mercurial "Fifty-Eight" keeps things in the city, with the piece's speed changing at almost every turn as Riley turns the drama up and down.

The heart of gold gets its side of the story, though. The loping "Triumph" is a heartfelt tribute to the works and spirit of tennis star/activist Arthur Ashe; Bonilla revives Old School romance with "Closer Still," a love letter to his wife Luz; and "Luminescence" and "Elis" are tender odes to Bonilla's niece and daughter, respectively.

I Talking Now is a musical examination of Luis Bonilla's life experiences—some sweet, some dysfunctional, all of them engrossing and very, very real. It's a life worth listening to... even when someone isn't shouting to be heard over dinnertime conversation.


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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