The cover of this album shows Diego Urcola (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Paquito D'Rivera (alto saxophone, clarinet) back-to-back, as if about to engage in the titular duel. But the sound is that of two veteran players jointly taking a leap into the unknown. A quartet without piano is an unusual setting for both of them. D'Rivera's liner notes mention Gerry Mulligan's quartet with Chet Baker (represented by " I Know, Don't Know How"), but Ornette Coleman's quartet is another, more surprising reference (with the classic "Una Muy Bonita").
The title tune (composed by Argentine pianist Guillermo Klein) opens the set with an unsettled start and stop feel, and energetic playing from the whole band. "Tango Azul" is the first of three Urcola originals, its tango rhythm inspiring brilliant clarinet playing from D'Rivera. "Una Muy Bonita" was originally recorded on Coleman's Change of the Century (Atlantic Records, 1960). This interpretation is bracing, a brash statement of commitment to the freedom of playing without a harmonic instrument, and possibly even freer than the original.
Classic modern jazz is also well represented. Duke Ellington's "Caravan" is recast as a tango in a medley with Argentinian composer Osvaldo Pugliese 's "La Yumba," complete with a striking shift from tango to swing during the bridge. Some of the choices are deep cuts, like Kenny Wheeler's "Foxy Trot" and Wayne Shorter's "Sacajawea (Theme)" from Alegría (Verve Records, 2003). The album closes with a trio of well known jazz standards: Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma;" Benny Golson's "Stablemates;" and an energetic Latin version of Thelonious Monk's "Bye-Ya."
If El Duelo was an experiment, it is resoundingly successful. Full of surprises, with terrific playing all around. Encore, please!
El Duelo; Tango Azul; Una Muy Bonita; La Yumba/Caravan; Pekin; The Natural; Buenos Aires; Foxy Trot; I Know, Don't Know How; Libertango; Sacajawea (Theme); Leyenda; Con Alma; Stablemates; Bye-Ya.
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