The first thing that becomes obvious about Alex Díaz’s beguilingly titled album, Number Seven is that its music is extremely forthright. A number of factors go into suggesting this. First: the album is unusually well-rehearsed and as a result the various players seem to function like proverbial cogs in a giant machine that works like clockwork. But this is no ordinary clockwork. It is like the legendary clockwork of a Swiss timepiece—elegant, precise, posh and expensive. This points to the players, who number stellar players that make up a celebrated marque. The bassist is the itinerant Rubén Rodriguez, a player that is blessed with a plump and joyful tone; who plays in wonderfully dancing circles whenever he is called upon to play. Mr. Rodríguez shares the bass chair with the ever-masterful John Benítez, a musician who has graced a host of superb albums in the Latin Jazz milieu. The second lead voice is certainly Iván Renta, one of the most powerful voices on woodwinds to come out of Puerto Rico. Then there is Mike Eckroth, a pianist of exceptional talent, so much so that he is able to adapt his playing to a number of musical idioms, something not many musicians are capable of. He shares his piano stool with another rising star: Yeisson Villamer. And that is only a part of the musical story that unfolds on this recording.
The main part of the narrative is, of course, Alex Díaz, the Dominican Republic-born, New York-based conguero, who has been active on the Latin Jazz scene for a long number of years. Mr. Díaz is a wonderful rhythmist. He is stylish to the point of being hip. His attack is angular and authoritative. He is also painterly in his approach and he seems to have expanded the colours of the palette from which he is able to pick a host of them—all rustic and shades of brown and golds that dapple the rhythmic landscape which he inhabits. “Cuban Chant” is a fine example of this intuitive artistic sleight of hand as is “Otra Vez,” where he is found to be in a contrapuntal mode, cleverly varied when he plays behind the trombone, which is followed by the tenor saxophone. This subtle variation in rhythmic colours shows that Mr. Díaz is far from predictable when he plays in the ensemble. He is, of course, infinitely more varied in his approach when he solos. No two independent sojourns are alike and this culminates in a magnificent opening to “Descarga Ayala,” which only deepens as the music progresses. This fine form continues through “Firm Roots” as well.
The repertoire on this recording is also somewhat varied, even if it is largely Latin Jazz metaphorically. There is also some music that is rich in the Afro-Cuban tradition, such as “Son Pa Bani.” Then things take a surprising turn in the form of “Theme for Jobim,” in an exquisite Brasilian idiom. But the most wonderful aspect of the album—apart from Mr. Díaz’s playing that is—is the superb voice of Iván Renta. This is a big aspect of the music of the recording. Mr. Renta plays with enormous passion and adds a whole new palette as well as timbre to the project. His wonderful work with the alto, tenor and baritone—on “Descarga Ayala”—is one of the highlights of this album that will be remembered for its originality and wonderful array of voices as well.
Track List: Kabiosile; Things To Come; Blues Para Chano; El Tamal; Fly With The Wind; Cubano Chant; Otra Vez; Descarga Ayala; Firm Roots; Son Pa Bani; Theme For Jobim; Una Mas.
Personnel: Alex Díaz: congas, tambora; Mike Eckroth: piano (1 – 4, 8, 9, 12); Yeisson Villamer: piano (5 – 7, 10, 11); Rubén Rodríguez: bass (1 – 4, 8, 9, 12); John Benítez: bass (5 – 7, 10, 11); Luis Bonilla: trombone (6, 7); Nelson “Gazu” Jaime: trumpet (1, 2, 4, 8, 10); Diego López: drums; Iván Renta: alto, tenor and baritone saxophones; José Dávila: trombone (1, 4, 8); Isidoro Bobadilla: tambora, percussion (5, 10); Frankie “Mr. Estilo” Figueroa: vocals (4, 10); Juan “Kuki” Mora: tambora, guïra (2, 9).
Label: Bani Music | Release date: September 2013
About Alex Díaz
Alex Díaz was born in Bani, Dominican Republic. At the age of 16 he already played with Los Juveniles del Sabor, a band that highlighted Rubby Perez and Aramis Camilo. In 1980 he moved to NY where he joined the band of Hilton Ruíz, quickly becoming one of the best conga players in the city. This resulted in invitations to play with Tito Puente, José Fajardo, Chucho Valdés, Mario Bauza and his Afro-Cuban Band, Dizzy Gillespie and the United Nations Orchestra, Xavier Cugat, Celia Cruz, Alfredo ¨Chocolate Armenteros¨ and Mario Rivera.
Heir to the concept of Jazz Merengue from his mentor – Mario Rivera ¨El Comandante¨. His musical projects ¨Son de la Calle¨ and ¨The Bebop Boogaloo Kings¨ continue to make exquisite fusions of well-known traditional Jazz Standards with the Dominican Merengue, as well as own compositions and arrangements. In September 2011 they released the CD: Alex Díaz & his Merengue Jazz – Beyond 145th Street. And now are releasing the newest and best production – Alex Díaz – Number Seven!!!
The career of this Banilejo is long, he has played and will continue playing with the greats of Jazz. He has played in many settings, including: Bern Jazz Festival 2005 – Bern, Switzerland, the inaugural version of The South Florida Dominican Jazz Fest y in the Dominican Republic in many venues, such as: Jazz en Dominicana en Casa de Teatro; Fiesta Sunset Jazz; Jazz Picante en La Cantina, Centro Leon and Las Terrenas Jazz Festival 2011. His discography includes the following as band leader: Sitting Bull Dance; Alex Díaz & The Bebop Boogaloo Kings; Alex Díaz y Son de la Calle – Black Jazz; Alex Díaz y Son de la Calle – En Vivo; Alex Díaz y Son de la Calle – Merengue Jazz King – Homenaje a Mario Rivera; y, Alex Díaz y su Merengue Jazz – Beyond 145th Street, and now Alex Díaz – Number Seven.
The Dominican Conga player has played with a ¨who´s who¨ of Jazz and Latin Music, amongst others: Tito Puente, Mario Rivera, Mario Bauzá, Dizzy Gillespie and many more. His format results in a fine and elegant marriage of jazz, latin jazz and Dominican rhythms, such as merengue, palo and gaga, amongst others. His latest album – Beyond 145th Street – was chosen as one of the best 12 World Music Albums of 2012 by worldmusic.com – An all star band of Latin Jazz players from New York: bassist Rubén Rodríguez, drummer Diego López, pianist Mike Eckroth, trumpeteer Nelson ¨Gazu¨ Jaime and saxophone player Iván Renta accompany Alex.