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Diego Urcola: Viva

John Kelman By

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With a predominantly Latino lineup and a title like Viva, one might expect trumpeter Diego Urcola's latest release to be heavy on joyous Latin rhythms. However, like his earlier work, it's much broader in scope. His last record, Soundances (Sunnyside, 2003), recorded with an all-Argentinean cast, managed to blur the boundaries between his cultural roots and the urban influences of his current home in New York. If anything, Viva, while not neglecting those roots, finds Urcola in an even more contemporary setting that avoids preconceptions through a mix of straight-ahead swing, abstract impressionism and—yes—even a samba.

Urcola's core group is responsible for much of this album's ability to fuse so many influences into something that respects but doesn't mimic them. Pianist Edward Simon, drummer Antonio Sanchez and bassist Avishai Cohen all have considerable experience inside and outside various cultural traditions. Like Urcola, they're individually finding new ways to express their backgrounds—stretching the boundaries while subsuming them in something altogether bigger than any single source.

Urcola bookends this program, which includes material by fellow Argentineans Guillermo Klein and Juan Raffo, with two of his own tunes. The opening "Tango Azut is a medium-tempo minor blues in 7/4 where Urcola reacts quickly, delivering a lithe modal solo with brief references to John Coltrane. Simon's solo reharmonizes the changes so radically that if it weren't for Cohen's underlying support, you might lose sight of the fact that this is even a blues at all.

The tender "Emilia closes the album, beginning with Simon's simple arpeggios and a delicate melody from Urcola and guest clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera. Urcola's one-year-old daughter "Emilia giggles underneath a soft arco solo from Cohen and a lyrical flugelhorn solo that slowly builds in intensity, supported by Simon's elegantly unpredictable voicings.

Urcola's "40/40 represents a new development for him as a writer. Its dark tango-based intro and up-tempo middle section may seem incongruous, but, linked by Simon's spare chords, they ultimately make perfect sense together. "Blues for Jimmy, which grooves amiably like a classic '60s Blue Note session, features tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath on one of two guest spots (the other is a buoyant Afro-Cuban look at his own "Sound for Sore Ears that skirts the obvious by shifting gears into a more straightforward swing).

Klein's title track—a brooding, harmonically complex piece that belies its suggestive name—finds Simon delivering a solo which blends greater abstraction with simple lyricism. Sanchez's breadth includes textural economy here, but a more characteristic vivacious approach on Raffo's samba-inflected "Afroraffo, which features brief but impressive solos by Dave Samuels on marimba and D'Rivera, this time on alto sax.

While the more orthodox Latin tradition is being kept alive by others, younger artists like Urcola and Simon are redefining its parameters by introducing a more modern bent. Viva may not be the party record its name may suggest, but it's deceptively accessible and emotionally resonant across a broad spectrum, making it strong followup to the Grammy-nominated Soundances.


Track Listing: Tango Azul; Viva; Afroraffo; El Camino; Blues for Jimmy; 40/40; Sound for Sore Ears; Adios Nonino; Gringo Dance; Emilia.

Personnel: Diego Urcola: trumpet, flugelhorn; Edward Simon: piano; Avishai Cohen: bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums; Pernell Saturnino: percussion; Jimmy Heath: tenor saxophone (5,7); Paquito D'Rivera: alto saxophone, clarinet (3,6,10); Conrad Herwig: trombone (1,4,5,9); Dave Samuels: marimba, vibes (3,8).

Title: Viva | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: CAM Jazz

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