Quick and to the Point: Youthful jazz vigor penned with broad strokes of good-humored Puerto Rican musical acumen...
José Lugo pops his cherry as a leader on Piano con mata and it is tight! This is a novel voice in jazz, Latin at that, with enough playing, producing, composing and arranging to keep listeners tuned in.
At the very outset of the recording, much of Lugo's style is clearly established. The temper of the production, its sense of humor, vibe, and conceptualization, as well as its deep performance scopes, are factored in the opener. “I Got Rhythm” thus obtains a unique reinterpretation, facilitated by rhythmic recourses of intense richness present throughout the arrangement itself and the respective performances of all concerned. Gershwin à la Puerto Rican urban coastline, with DJ’d transitions towards Cuban traditional territory, is followed with yet another rereading of “Bilongo.” Tasty and scorching solos fill a contemporary version of this standard, with jazzified Salsa sandwiched within, albeit unceremoniously nipped at it’s very closing by a Lugo composition based on Psalm 100. Hence, that hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the goodness of the Lord is given a solo piano reflection with hints of thoughtful joy. In “Salmo 100,” one meets Lugo the mature soloist, perhaps all too briefly, although not for the last time in this CD. Once again, the actual cut to the following composition is rather abrupt.
The irony of entitling a thoroughly Afro-Rican composition with the name of one of the extinct native cultures of the island would not have escaped Latin America’s premiere ethnographer, Fernando Ortiz. Given Eduardo Sánchez de Fuentes' refusal to address the evidence when giving credit to Cuba’s musical roots, Ortiz endeavored throughout this entire life to Blacken such credits, so to speak. Up to the very beginning of the 20th Century, undue musical credit was given to the indigenous inhabitants of the Caribbean in lieu of the proper musical recognition of Blacks in Cuba. The fact, as Ortiz eventually established, is that there is no evidence of any indigenous musical strain having survived anywhere whatsoever. Nevertheless, the imaginary value of the Taínos is unarguable, as further witnessed through Amado “Mandy” Vizoso’s composition “Taíno” at the hands and mouth of Lugo -as he uses a technological device to blow solos into his keyboard. A jazzy orchestrated rendition, on a foundation of 20th Century urban Plena, gains momentum with Lugo’s brother’s fantastically appropriate timbale solo, giving way to a steady backbeat with exponentially tasty trombone phrasings eliciting fervor. Indian mythology, of sorts, recurs in “Seis indígena.” An atmospheric piece of musical exotica, enhanced by the melodious sampled call of one of the 16 types of tree frogs otherwise known as “Coquí” in Puerto Rico, is a prelude to a jazz treatment of jíbaro, or countryside music, honoring one of its leading figures “Chuito el de Bayamón.” A tight swing is evident in this marriage of chords and skins with Puerto Rican elegant mountain flavors. Quite a delightful tune riding on a toasty Bastar bongo...
On “Villancico yaucano,” Lugo returns alone, astride from yet another abrupt cut. His touch, range of ideas, expressiveness, timing and rhythmia are given in another morsel. The enchanting melody flutters as it jumpstarts into a contagiously bombastic New Orleanesque Baritone led trip into quite a meaty take on “Birks Works.” A Puerto Rican Bomba rhythmic base, playfully played against sampled coos from Lugo’s son, allowed this Gillespie composition to be shredded into its own collage of trumpet, baritone, and bass led figures, with a DJ’d transitional device, before Lugo’s own solos and the ensuing percussive conclusion. Quite an interesting performance.
“Lamento borincano,” a Puerto Rican standard, is welcomed by Lugo’s third acoustic solo presentation. His rendition is as good as any, and the transition into Ellington’s “Take the Coltrane” almost works! Aside from other keyboards, the Fender Rhodes reigns in the funky swingin’ feeling of this islander edgy take on “Take the Coltrane.” Aged veteran Jesús Caunedo shows how is done, as did Laboy. The drumming proves worthy of the occasion and the keyboards take it all in baby... Yeah mon, yeah... Beckoning, a muted trumpet seem to issue the invite: “Come to my island mon, my mata is buena de verdá... ”
The compositions of Sylvia Rexach are not simplistic works. Lugo’s effort in “Mi versión” is notable. Flugelhorn and fretless bass give the spaciousness of the piano playing and the arrangement, reharmonized to its own chordal advantage, a most proper framework for the sentiment required to pull off this contribution.
Piano con mata is an ambitious and promising shot from Lugo, whose album release presentation literally occurred at the crossroads of a Puerto Rican underpass in the fringes between Santurce and El Condado, in front of a restaurant owned by a local TV celebrity. Last November, Lugo managed to gather most of the musicians from the session to perform music from this recording, as well as a segment honoring several noted Cuban and Puerto Rican pianists including “Peruchín,” Luis Benjamín, Charlie Palmieri, and Paquito Hechavarría. A street audience of friends, musicians, media people and some jazz admirers enjoyed both greatly interpreted sets, which unfortunately culminated in a half-assed jam session unworthy of the talent present at the time. A new and welcomed voice comes to jazz by way of Salsa, as Lugo is the producer of one of its leading exponents, Gilberto Santa Rosa. Lugo’s career, however, benefited from early exposure to the ways of legendary bassist Bobby Valentín. Incidentally, Valentín himself is featured in Lugo’s album in a rare instance of his work in acoustic bass. Perhaps even his first recorded one. This young Puerto Rican pianist put on a good show in this recording, de la mata...
Contact: Bronco Records .
1. Opening-I Got Rhythm 2. Bilongo 3. Salmo 100 4. Ta