Those of us who have siblings know the special bond that brothers and sisters share. From being able to quote the same movies, to sharing memories of childhood and growing up, it's hard to deny that siblings have a unique connection. It should come as no surprise then, that this unique connection gives siblings a certain advantage when playing music together, especially music as intimate and conversational as jazz. Indeed, there is a rich history of brothers collaborating in jazz; the collaborations Montgomery brothers, the Jones brothers, the Brecker brothers, and the Marsalis brothers are all good examples of the great music that can happen when siblings improvise together.
On Impromptu, a new sibling powerhouse reveals itself in the dynamic playing of trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and pianist Roberto Juan Rodriguez. Joining the brothers on this recording is a powerful band consisting of bassist Carlos Henriquez, drummer Ludwig Alfonso, and percussionist Samuel Torres. Each of the players is well-versed in Latin styles as well as the language of contemporary jazz; together they present a personal and unique take on Latin jazz.
As with all releases from the Criss Cross Jazz label, the music is masterfully recorded and mixed. The rhythm section can always be heard clearly but never drowns out the soloist. Likewise, the soloist is always firmly in the foreground, but never at the expense of the rhythm section.
The music presented on Impromptu derives mostly from Afro-Cuban styles and strikes an elegant balance between traditional rhythmic structures and contemporary harmonic and melodic ideals. The two brothers' musical chemistry is on full display right from the first track, with Robert providing perfect support Michael's lively trumpet solo, then taking the track somewhere new during his own imaginative solo. The rhythm section responds appropriately, keeping a strong, omnipresent sense of groove while remaining aware and reacting to the rhythmic drive of the soloist.
This strong sense of chemistry pervades throughout the album as the band works through a variety of Cuban-rooted styles. "Descargation" centers around a slow, simple tumbao, and lets the rhythmic push and pull of the melody and soloists drive the tune. "La Guaracha" blends a winding, bop-ish melody with the traditional fast guaracha dance rhythms. "Tu Mi Delirio," the only track not written by one of the Rodriguez brothers, presents a beautiful, delicate bolero by Cuban composer Cesar Portillo de la Luz and showcases Michael Rodriguez's warm flugelhorn tone.
The album closer, "Minor Things," begins with a fairly simple theme and solos but then moves to a rumba clave coda section introduced with a blistering montuno from the piano. In addition to the variety of Cuban styles the band uses, "Love Samba" also presents a solid dose of Brazilian rhythm with the brothers eventually adding their vocals to restate the catchy melodic theme.
The strong writing and use of long-form composition help make this blend of Latin music and jazz memorable, however it is the innate musical chemistry that exists between the brothers that makes this music exceptional. Both are great musicians in their own right but this collaboration yields a fruitful reward and I hope we can expect to hear more of their work together in the future.
Impromptu; La Guaracha; Fragment; Descaargation; Love Samba; Latin Jacks; Tu Mi Delirio; Minor Things
Michael Rodriguez: Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Pandeiro, Percussion; Robert Rodriguez: Piano, Percussion; Carlos Henriquez: Bass; Ludwig Alfonso: Drums; Samuel Torres: Congas, Percussion; Roberto Rodriguez: Drums (track 8)