This recording by Carlos Henriquez, the highly visible bassist of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, A Nuyorican Tale, features him playing his original work with a powerful ensemble comprising vocalist and flutist, Jeremy Bosch, the brothers, pianist Robert Rodriguez and trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, the latter joined by celebrated trumpeter Terrell Stafford, trombonist Marshal Gilkes, saxophonist Melissa Aldana and JLC alumnus, drummer Obed Calvaire, perfectly complemented by conguero Anthony Almonte.
This recital brings together a sequence of nine works by Mr Henriquez, all designed to please and to challenge. The word “tale” in the title is used with a rather tongue-in-cheek twist. Once you penetrate the skin of the lyricism of the writing and follow, carefully. the lyrics of the opener Nuyorican Soul and Robert’s Red Line – for example – the song lyrics make a rather forceful appeal with fluid music. In other words, this may be a “tale”, but the narrative (of colour-discrimination) is all-too-real.
But where the sad story of discrimination plays out, despair melts into hope with musical miniatures that are poignant. This is what musicians of colour have been singing of in The Blues, music that is marked by both sadness and hope. This is what is immediately attractive about these works – and the small matter of some exceptionally beautiful performances of each of the musicians, all of whom seem not only to be fully attuned to Mr Henriquez’s artistic vision, but who has also interiorised this music deeply and have thus given fine, idiomatic performances.
Consider the pianist Robert Rodriguez’s performance on Chankalet’s Blues, which also features a fine performance by Mr Calvaire on drums. The musicians continue their excellent ensemble performance in a call-and-response musical conversation between the bassist and the rest of the ensemble, facilitated by the fine vocals which alternate between English and Spanish, backing music that alternates between a Second Line marching rhythm led by the trumpeters and the saxophonist and a sassy and songful Latin rhythm.
This album also pays homage to broader cultural topography of the Afro-Cuban rhythms that inform music from across the Caribbean islands with the wonderful Bodegas Groove played as a traditional Cuban danzón. The inclusion of a tribute to Thelonious Monk in the form of Afro Monk has much more to do than simply honour one of the greatest virtuosos and innovators in modern music. It is a thumbing of the nose at a society that is resistant to change – just as the listeners in Mr Monk’s day were resistant to his music, something that did not sway the great musician from the direction he wished his music to take. So yes, here Afro Monk also assumes the form of an oblique protest.
While Mr Henriquez is almost self-effacing and rarely solos – and that too, not really more than a few bars when he does – his creative imprint is all over this music. One of the finest examples of this approach is how the bassist drives not only the rippling Afro-Caribbean rhythm behind Ms Aldana’s solo, but throughout the powerful yet elegantly crafted song Ritmo’s 53 as well as in the album’s climactic finale – Winds of Change – the ultimate hopeful song of a rather beautifully-crafted album.
Throughout the music of this album Mr Henriquez’s performance is never less than richly experienced and “musicianly”. The music also cries out for a finer memory of its orchestral colour, its magic propelled not only by fascinating brass and woodwind arrangements but superlative performances by musicians whose individual virtuosity – led by the bassist’s, of course – is lively, attractive and a constant delight through a truly memorable album.
YouTube Playlist – Carlos Henriquez: A Nuyorican Tale
Music – 1: Nuyorican Soul; 2: Bodegas Groove; 3: Latin Gemini; 4: Afro Monk; 5: My Isla Bonita; 6: Chankalet’s Blues; 7: Robert’s Red Line; 8: Ritmo’s 53; 9: Winds of Change.
Musicians – Jeremy Bosch: flute and vocals: Michael Rodriguez: trumpet; Terrell Stafford: trumpet; Marshall Gilkes: trombone; Melissa Aldana: tenor saxophone; Robert Rodriguez: piano and Fender Rhodes; Carlos Henriquez: words and music, contrabass, and electric bass; Obed Calvaire: drums; Anthony Almonte: congas and vocals.
Released – 2023
Label – Independent
Runtime – 53:28
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