Cuban alto saxophonists playing Afro-Cuban music – even Black American Music in the Afro-Cuban idiom – are well known. The best-known contemporary players of that instrument from the island of Cuba is César López, [Michel Herrera follows close behind the questing voice of that maestro]. This disc – No Way Back – by the Mexican alto saxophonist Gerry López doing what Cubans do best with their music is revelatory. Mr López demonstrates not only that he has a superb grasp of the idiom, but that he also demonstrates his breathtaking virtuosity notable for the intense passion of his attack, with melodic lines played with liquid cascades of notes that tumble and break ashore in mellifluous glissandos and phrases that jump, and pirouette in glorious elliptical lines.
Mr López is joined for the set by a distinguished academy of fine Cuban musicians. The result is a lively romp of a repertoire but some of the most brilliant versions of music – both familiar and less-known. If you are dazzled by the inventive coda that turns Giant Steps, John Coltrane’s iconic song with its thrill-a-minute harmonic changes from bar to bar, you are likely to have your jaw drop with the marvellous coda at with which Mr López brings the song home. You will also note, for good measure, that while the fact that the Afro-Cuban arrangement of the song may not come as a surprise, Mr López’s version ripples, glides, and shimmers, exploring resonances that become more potent with the idiomatic playing of the rest of the ensemble.
But the high point of the album comes – to one’s mind – in the finale of the album, on the song Trip One Way. My attention was held rapt by the twirling electronics employed by the alto saxophonist as he turns an ordinary montuno rhythm into something truly special. The tumbling rhythmic groove – held by mixing the timbres of this interesting instrumentation – turns what might have been a de rigueur dancing montuno section in an Afro-Cuban work into soaring melodic and harmonic notes that fly off the page. Again, all of this makes the music sparkle with invention from Mr López, a musician whose sinewy musicianship is eminently suited to the wonderfully aggressive nature of Afro-Cuban rhythms.
On this album, No Way Back, the grit of the oyster is supplied by two aspects of it: the songs, Centro Habana and Toda Una Vida, music embellished harmonically by the string quartet as well as several celebrated, highly individual musical voices – tenor saxophonist Carlos Miyares, the incomparable Alain Pérez, who sings on Toda Una Vida and the brilliant rhythmists led by pianist Miguel Ángel García “Wiwi” , drummers Horacio “El Negro” Hernández and Oliver Valdés, and percussion colourists Yolanda “Yuya” Rodríguez, Octavio Rodríguez and Luisito Aballe. And [especially] the bassists Rafael Paseiro and Dimitris Christopoulos, whose dark vibrant tones set the stage for a rollicking set that comes to an end all too soon, leaving one wanting for more – a lot more of this wonderful music. I would be remiss if I did not marvel at the sharpness and the warmth of the recording, that raises the experience of this music to an altogether different level up in the stratosphere. Engineer Ana Laura Vilaragut Ray and her assistant Daniel Rodríguez Hernández deserve special plaudits for their wonderful work behind the boards to bring this thrill-a-minute music to fruition.
YouuTube Video – Gerry López “No Way Back” EPK
Music – 1: Centro Habana; 2: Paris Song; 3: Giant Steps; 4: Jacarandas; 5: Toda Una Vida; 6: Sin Vuelta Atrás; 7: Te Sigo Amando; 8: Trip One Way.
Musicians – Gerry López: alto saxophone; Alain Pérez: vocal ; Carlos Miyares: tenor saxophone [1 – 5, 7]; Miguel Ángel García “WiWi”: piano Rafael Paseiro: electric bass [1 – 4, 6 – 8]; Dimitris Christopoulos: contrabass ; Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums [1, 2, 4, 6, 9]; Oliver Valdés: drums [3, 5, 7]; Octavio Rodríguez: batá drums ; Yolanda “Yuya” Rodríguez: congas; Luisito Aballe: congas and bongos ; String Quartet – on tracks 1 and 5 – Francesco Venudo: violin I; Marie-Sophie Baumgartner: violin II; Fernando Domínguez Cortéz: viola; Lucie Gockel: cello.
Released – 2023
Label – Escamilla Productions 
Runtime – 47:30
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