Snapshot is a terrific release by drummer Gustavo Cortiñas, featuring a dynamic combination of musicians who are all associated with the stellar Northwestern University jazz department. The group includes the department's head, the great tenor saxman Victor Goines, who has played with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Ray Charles to Bob Dylan. There's also guitarist Mike Allemana, who cut his chops with legendary saxophonist Von Freedman and then went back to Northwestern for a degree. And three recent Northwestern grads contribute a wealth of experience and enthusiasm: Roy McGrath on tenor, Justin Copeland on trumpet, and Kitt Lyles on bass.
In the leader's seat is Cortiñas, a recent graduate of Northwestern who was born and raised in Mexico City and spent time in New Orleans studying at Loyola. He's an intriguing combination of influences, and on Snapshot, the first release under his name, he brings these disparate worlds together beautifully. The nine compositions are all Cortiñas originals, showcasing his deep knowledge of traditional jazz forms, as well as his ability to throw these structures out the window and try something new.
"Timing Is Everything" is an excellent example of Cortiñas' ability to color within the lines. The first notes burst out strong and bold, and the tune keeps up the momentum throughout. The front line of Goines and Copeland sing out the strong melody line, while the rhythm section cooks up a fast and furious swing. Goines offers a tremendous solo, a powerful explosion of dancing lines, and Copeland follows with a solo that reveals his gorgeous tone. Another fine tune is the ballad "When I Leave You," a sensitive reflection on the poignant regret of parting. McGrath offers an unabashedly romantic solo, which is tenderly supported by Allemana's comping. Interestingly, Cortiñas revisits the tune at the end of the album with "When I Leave You (Another Perspective)." This time the song proceeds at a slower pace, as well as provides a real showcase for Copeland, whose trumpet slowly grows in power as the rhythm section shimmers beneath him.
Cortiñas also excels when he steps outside the traditional boundaries, as evidenced by the ten-minute showstopper "Skepticism." A meditation on his encounter with the philosopher Descartes, the song has an unusual shape, an expansive form that includes an exquisite bass solo by Lyles, a lively melody line, journeys into silence, a lithe guitar solo, and even a bit of cacophony. The structure and mood of the song are both unusual and highly satisfying. And "Wish... (Interlude)" is a drum solo by Cortiñas, revealing his marvelous blend of energy and economy, as well as his ability to wield a cowbell.
When an exceptional group of musicians like this joins together with their main teacher to create such pleasing music, it's proof positive that jazz education is thriving. Snapshot is full of honest music, played with exactitude and heart, and Gustavo Cortiñas is a gifted leader with a strong career ahead of him.
Timing Is Everything; When I Leave You; Chimeras; Skepticism; La Balada de León;
Hanaki; Wish… (Interlude); Wish I Could Be There Now; When I Leave You (Another
Justin Copeland: trumpet; Victor Goines: tenor saxophone (1, 5, 8); Roy McGrath: tenor
saxophone (2, 3, 4, 6); Michael Allemana: guitar; Kitt Lyles: double bass; Gustavo
Cortiñas: drums, cymbals.