Featured Album · Editor’s Pick
The juxtaposition of two major musicians – without a piano to bind them harmonically and only a bassist and drummer to keep things warm – can be transformational, which it is in the case of this excursion featuring trumpeter [and flugelhornist] Diego Urcola and alto saxophonist and clarinetist wizard, Paquito D’Rivera. The two musicians really have nothing to prove, but what they achieve with the music on this disc is to illuminate new vantage points on each of the fifteen charts on El Duelo. The proverbial butting of heads works so marvelously that you won’t hear, for instance, the arpeggio-riffs that you may have heard from Mr D’Rivera [not that they aren’t welcome, of course] and neither is Mr Urcola predictable. But it seems that both musicians push each other to take risks with the music, and to stretch in a manner that they might not have felt comfortable doing, were it not for making this kind of musical leap into the unknown.
This is an ambitious venture by any measure, especially so as the brilliance of the musicians and this music is sustained over fifteen pieces. Mr D’Rivera rightly points out in his short introductory note: “the bass, on which you must unleash all your creativity, with more freedom and fewer limitations” is absolutely critical and key to the success of this album. But having too much “freedom” can also mean that the musical daring can come unstuck. None of that happens, of course. As regards the former suggestion, Hamish Smith is not only a proverbial rock, but leads – and often tempts – these musicians where angels fear to tread. Mr Smith also swings magnificently whether he is “walking” or in any other rhythmic mode. To boot, Eric Doob is a master of time himself. Free to go where most musicians wouldn’t dare, Mr Urcola and Mr D’Rivera make use of this unfettering to create magical shapes and textures.
There is a freshness, fluency and notably expressive quality to this music. Both Mr Urcola and Mr D’Rivera egg each other on with warmth and mutual respect. They also dare each other and you might be especially wowed by the performances on Ornette Coleman’s “Una Muy Bonita” as well as on Astor Piazzolla’s iconic “Libertango” as the dark beauty of the tango is played with just enough of a hint to make it recognisable, yet with enough daring as to make it almost cheeky. The free-flowing exchange between Mr Urcola and Mr D’Rivera illustrates both the music’s dark beauty and their own inventiveness in both charts, as it does throughout the other thirteen songs, where each virtuoso plays with typical fluency and sonority. On the latter, Mr Doob also gives us a masterful display of his own virtuosity.
The music is superb out of the gates, with Guillermo Klein’s “El Duelo”. This excellence continues unabated also through Wayne Shorter’s “Sacajawea [Theme]”, Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma”, and especially Mr Urcola’s own piece “The Natural” and Benny Golson’s “Stablemates”. And just when you thought that they couldn’t outdo themselves the musicians crown it all with an absolutely brilliant version of Thelonious Monk’s “Bye-Ya” [where Mr Smith really shines] to close out the album. Mr Urcola and Mr D’Rivera have been in each other’s company for many years now and they have several exquisite albums under their respective belts. However they may not have explored such interesting repertoire before. To be engaged in a thrillingly opulent event is something that most musicians pursue but might luck into once in their career. El Duelo may just be that event for both Mr Urcola and Mr D’Rivera; an album that nourishes music – as well as body and soul.
Track list – 1: El Duelo; 2: Tango Azul; 3: Una Muy Bonita; 4: La Yumba/Caravan; 5: Pekin; 6: The Natural; 7: Buenos Aires; 8: Foxy Trot; 9: I Know, Don’t Know How; 10: Libertango; 11: Sacajawea [Theme]; 12: Leyenda; 13: Con Alma; 14: Stablemates; 15: Bye-Ya
Personnel – Diego Urcola: trumpet and flugelhorn; Paquito D’Rivera: alto saxophone and clarinet; Hamish Smith: bass; Eric Doob: drums
Released – 2020
Label – Sunnyside Records [SSC 4560]
Runtime – 1:17:11