There is topographical significance in the musical architecture of Carlos Henriquez’s record, The Bronx Pyramid and it is a bold thesis, one that has gained considerable momentum in recent years. It attempts to create a quadrangular base that stretches from Havana, New Orleans, The Bronx and San Juan with Mother Africa as its apex. While the idea of such a cultural nexus may not be new, Mr. Henriquez has, like a musical architect of considerable talent, created something truly noteworthy. It is music, that is, rooted in a dramatically enriched cultural sod and the bassist’s roots run very deep. Tito Puente (though not the first protagonist) had a great deal ‘to say’ about this in his music when he was alive. And like this illustrious ancestor, Carlos Henriquez has added not just to the conversation, but to the musical language as well.
Why has there been such an urge to make music since Mr. Puente, redefined the idiom so many years ago? While reference points cannot be changed articulation can. But before all of that there is an upending of much of the established vocabulary and the voicing of a talented artist can alter even language – the line from bebop to hip-hop is a case in point. Interestingly as in that example, the challenge here has also been to alter the language of the basslines in the case of Carlos Henriquez’s music. So not only has Mr. Henriquez been extremely clever in adapting an established idiom to the performance style of the day, but he has also updated the sound world, relocating the profound and sophisticated milieu of Afro-Cuban music to the swirling, changing ethos of Afro-American – that is Jazz – music further enriching the writing of horizontal and vertical music and adding a new standard of bassline writing to enhance the virtuoso playing of his particular instrument.
Carlos Henriquez has also added a wonderful cast of musicians to the performance of this music. There seems like a lot more musicians than there actually are on this disc. Of course, sophisticated arrangements will not do it alone for you. Players must be perfectly cast for their roles and this they are. The Rodriguez brothers – trumpeter, Michael and pianist Robert – the saxophonist Felipe Lamoglia, drummer Ali Jackson and conguero Bobby Allende are all bristling with talent in their own rights. And the addition of such luminaries as Rubén Blades and Pedrito Martinez with vocalists Renzo Padilla and Kike Gonzalez are their own sense of drama to the music. Together these musicians help achieve the right effect, the richness in Mr. Henriquez’s scoring that you can catch from the first notes of “The Bronx Pyramid”, which sets the tone for the whole album.
Of course the date belongs to Carlos Henriquez. The bassist hisses and sparkles, growls and thunders like a musician experiencing a very special epiphany. Not only does he excel in sophistication of his rhythmic sense, but also in the manner in which he interprets melodic invention. You never tire of the things he has to say and his singing voice holds up everything from the bottom up. His dramatic arco turn in “Al Fin Te Vi” is reminiscent of the great Cachao and is the high point of the recording. This is only the second recording from Jazz at Lincoln Center’s own imprint, Blue Engine Records. From the sounds of it much effort was invested in making this another landmark recording and so one can look forward to many more recordings like this in future.
Track List: The Bronx Pyramid; Cuchifrito; Descarga Entre Amigos; Joshua’s Dream; Guarajazz; Promesas; 9 O’Clock Bomba; Al Fin Te Vi; Nilda; Brook Ave.
Personnel: Carlos Henriquez: bass; Michael Rodriguez: trumpet; Robert Rodriguez: piano; Felipe Lamoglia: tenor saxophone; Ali Jackson: drums; Bobby Allende: congas – with special guests: : vocals (3); Pedrito Martinez: batá (1); Renzo Padilla: coro (3); Kike Gonzalez: coro (3).
Label: Blue Engine Records
Released: September 2015
Running time: 1:02:00