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Rafael Rosa: Rafael Rosa: Portrait

Ian Patterson By

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In jazz terms Puerto Rico has certainly punched above its weight, producing Juan Tizol—a mainstay of Duke Ellington's bands in the 1930s and 1940s, Eddie Gomez and Manolo Badrena—who came to prominence in the 1960s/1970s through their respective associations with pianist Bill Evans and Weather Report—and latterly David Sanchez. Lesser known—though perhaps that's soon to change—is guitarist Rafael Rosa, whose enticing debut reveals a composer and technician of some sophistication.

Carlos Maldonado's barril—a lower pitched Afro-Puerto Rican cousin of the Cuban conga—introduces the lively "Bomba Oscura." Maldonado's variations on the sicá rhythm percolate beneath the driving rhythms of drummer Joel Mateo, bassist John Benitez and the chordal impetus of pianist Carlos Homs. Homs, Rosa and saxophonist Edmar Colon release penetrating solos either side of the Pat Metheny-esque head. Puerto Rican musicians all, their Latin credentials are exceptional, collectively having played with Tito Puente, Chucho Valdes, Eddie Palmieri and Miguel Zenon, amongst many others. It's the most overtly Latin-influenced track and a pulsating ride.

However, a Latin-jazz descarga Portrait is not. With the exception of the miniature "Portrait: Among the Clouds"—a fleeting, ruminative union of guitar and saxophone—Rosa leads the New York-based quintet through well-crafted originals of contemporary hue, whose vibes are more Manhattan than San Juan.

Guest musicians Jean-Michel Pilc and Kenny Werner shine on two separate tunes: on "Pensando en Agua" Pilc spars with Colon's soprano saxophone on a sinewy free-form intro evocative of Wayne Shorter's long-standing quartet. Dan Martinez' bass ostinato and a melodious guitar motif provide ballast, paving the way for highly lyrical solos, first from Rosa and then Pilc. Werner's customary elegance, comping nous and improvisational flare color the episodic "Looking For." The title of Rosa's spoken-word poem sets the tone for the music that follows; a softly yearning quality runs like a thread through the contiguous solos of Rosa, tenor saxophonist Milton Barreto and Werner— the song gradually dissipating in gentle reverie.

Rosa and Colon weave melodic unison lines on the saxophonist's composition "Sky Floor." Their calling card presented, Rosa then launches into a delightful solo, with Mateo and Benitez picking up the pace as the guitarist gains in fluidity. Colon in turn stretches out on tenor and there's a drum feature to boot, yet despite the virtuosity it's the song's defining melody that lingers in the end. Melanie Lozano's wordless vocals add another color to Rosa's compositional palette on two tracks: the surging "Portrait; Wandering Magic" and the more delicate "Portrait: Of a Woman" evoke Gretchen Parlato's haunting fusion with David Binney on Graylen Epicenter (Mythology Records, 2011).

Guest trumpeter Michael Rodriguez stamps his personality on "New Recruit," dovetailing nicely with Rosa in warm, lyrical narratives that rise in intensity like the heat of a tropical day. "Devotion," with Martinez' infectious bass ostinato and Homs piano vamp intro conjuring John Coltrane-esque soundscapes, settles into lithe post-bop territory with significant statements from all.

Rosa's significant technical facility is matched by his emotive phrasing, where every note counts. The strength and lyricism in his writing, however, is placed in relief by the excellent musicians who contribute much to a genuinely impressive debut. Portrait announces not only the arrival of a noteworthy talent in Rosa, but of a wonderfully convincing quintet too, one that hopefully has legs to run.

Track Listing: Bomba Oscura; Sky Floor; Portrait: Wandering Magic; Portrait: Of a Woman; Portrait: Among the Clouds; New Recruit; Pensando en Agua; Devotion; Looking For.

Personnel: Rafael Rosa: guitar; Carlos Homs: piano (1-4, 6, 8); Edmar Colon: saxophones: (1-5, 7-8); Joel Mateo: drums (1-4, 6-9); John Benitez: bass (1-4); Carlos Maldonado: barril (1); Melanie Lozano: vocals (3-4); Michael Rodriguez: trumpet (6); Dan Martinez: bass (6-9); Jean Michel Pilc: piano (7); Kenny Werner: piano (9); Milton Barreto: saxophone (9).

Title: Rafael Rosa: Portrait | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Self Produced


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