It is altogether a special virtue to make an album that features music delightful to listen to as well as to feel an irresistible urge to get up and dance to when the first chords are struck. This is exactly what Steve Pouchie has done with El Puente. From the outset the vibraphonist draws a direct line in his musical lineage from Cal Tjader and Dave Samuels. There is that swaggering bluesy influence of Milt Jackson that may sometimes peep through in slower, more brooding, elegiac passages when Pouchie rocks slowly on the pedals like Bags does. Pouchie proffers a resonant intonation that fills his dapples musical canvas with bright, shimmering colors and shades. His playing is expert and effortless and he always picks the right notes to die quickly, while others he makes dally in an air dense with echoes and overtones and highly articulate emotion.
The album is easy to love and offers no figurative imagery past its title, suggesting a bridge from Puerto Rico to New York, perhaps. That, however, is where the figurative nature of the project ends. The rest of the imagery is in the persistent rhythmic grind that leaps and bounds between the shuffle of Afro Caribbean beats to the delightful swing of jazz motifs. The classic and crowning moments come—not once, but—twice in the album. The first is when Pouchie turns the dramatic 5/4 rhythmic architecture of Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” into a time signature ranging from 6/8 to 8/8. This rhythmic intervention, plus the mind altering imagery from a slot machine to grinding imaginary salsa-go-round is quite incredible and unforgettable as well. Not to be out done by the Latin Jazz crossover, Pouchie does it again with Luis Bonfa’s monster hit, “Manhã de Carnaval” as he transforms this cool Bossa rhythm into bubbling hot Afro Caribbean jive.
Although some of the musicians are not really well-known in the broad sense of the term, this is a razor-sharp ensemble with Pouchie leading from the front. The two saxophonists play with gravelly authority, typical of the command-style of Latin masters. The other percussionists, Little Johnny Rivero and drummer Jotan Alexander have designed a rhythmic matrix that is hypnotic throughout. Bassist, Octavio Rodriguez is not simply solid, but has a flair for the melodic—something all too rare these days, when bassists are content to hold the bass line up. His gifted handling of song lines throughout his short solos is remarkable. Pianist Adan Perez is self effacing yet hiding his talent behind the rest of the wall of sound cannot disguise his striking “tumbao” and he breaks through every now and then, especially on Bronislaw Kaper’s memorable chart and the Latin favourite, “On Green Dolphin Street.” Here too is a place for the percussion to shine like Machito’s Mambo King once did. But it is all too short.
Still, on evidence from the music of this album there is much more to come from Steve Pouchie—and if this band can stay together long enough—this mesmeric ensemble as well.
Tracks: Journey into Outland; Picadillo; Take Five; Watch Ur Wallet; Montaña de Suenos; On Green Dolphin Street; The Ghanan Trail; Manhã de Carnaval; Sands of Outland; The Shores of Summer; Naomi’s Fantasy.
Personnel: Steve Pouchie: vibraphone; Little Johnny Rivero: congas, bongos, cowbell, hand percussion; Octavio Rodriguez: “upright” and electric basses; Jotan Afanador: drums (1, 3, 6 – 10); Adan Perez: piano, keyboards ( 1 – 5, 9 – 11); Andrea Brachfeld: flute ( 4, 7); Julio Botti: tenor saxophone (1, 3, 6, 9, 11); Ivan Renta: tenor saxophone ( 2, 5); Ariel Santiago: flute (11); Pete Nater: trumpet and trumpet arrangements (1, 2, 8, 10); Ronnie Puente: marimba (2); Sam Barrios: piano, keyboards (6 – 8); Jeffery Lopes: timbales (4); Erik Piza: timbales (2, 11).
Steve Pouchie on the web: www.stevepouchie.com
Review written by: Raul da Gama