With Snapshot, drummer Gustavo Cortiñas emerges from that challenging rite of passage: the début album. Following years of training (with saxophonist Victor Goines, among others, who is on the record) and sideman duty (on a record with saxophonist Roy McGrath, who also shows up for this date), a young artist seeks to craft a meaningful and representative musical statement and calling card.
The musician has in the short span of the début record's length to establish him or herself as a soloist and instrumentalist, as a bandleader, as a composer, and as a kind of producer, capable of communicating a coherent creative vision. Tall order. Some are tempted to produce a scattershot aural résumé, spanning disparate styles and settings. Many invite too many special guests, diluting the coherence of the record.
Cortiñas smoothly avoids all of these pitfalls. Snapshot is an understated and confident record. The tenor sax chair switches off between Goines and McGrath, but the line-up is otherwise stable and consistent. Both saxophones are forthright voices in a team of equals. The secret hero of the record is guitarist Michael Allemana, a veteran of saxophonist Von Freeman's group, whose varied playing is the substrate holding all of these fine performances together.
In terms of musical temperament, this is a straight-ahead session, not trying to be clever. A case in point is "When I Leave You," marked by mellow guitar work by Allemana. Good group sound, not coyly hip. And though the record could sound conservative and mainstream, at its best moments, adventurous soloing and arrangements prevent things from growing dull. This is most striking on longer cuts like "Skepticism," with its fiery interplay of the horns of trumpeter Justin Copeland and McGrath.
As a drummer, Cortiñas is restrained, marked by the same quiet self-assurance that imbues the record overall. He holds off from any extended soloing or overt displays of technical prowess for several tracks, preferring to lend a variety of rhythmic supports to the group performances. When he does step out front in the solo intro to "Wish I Could Be There Now," he remains controlled and intelligent (mirroring something of the architectural sense of guitarist Allemana's solo on "Skepticism").
The leader's liner notes claim that "Timing Is Everything" is about the good things that come when "the timing is right and it is meant to be." The title could also refer to the timing of the placement of notes in an improviser's solo: Goines and Copeland playfully overdo the daring rhythmic aspects of their solos. More generally, the song and the sentiment it conveys suggest that the time is right for this solid and satisfying record.
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.