Jerry González and Miguel Blanco Big Band: Tribute to the Fort Apache Band

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*Editor’s note: as noted by Jerry González on a Facebook post, Fort Apache Band has never been disbanded as the writer states on this review. They’ve been active throughout all these years. They recorded Rumba Buhaina in 2003 and Blue Note will eventually release their latest record. In 2014 Fort Apache played at the San Jose Jazz Fest, Miami International Jazz Festival, Yerba Buena Gardens Festival and Taichung Jazz Festival. We thank Jerry González for the clarification.

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Jerry Gonzalez’s Fort Apache Band was probably one of the last, most iconic ensembles to come out of New York, via the ether of Puerto Rico. Few bands would boast the fire of a trumpet cast against the ethereal beauty of piano and the ferocious rhythm of bass dancing in and out of the conga and the drums. For that was how it felt to listen to trumpeter and conga player Jerry González almost lay siege to the breathtaking, quintessence of Larry Willis’ piano. This exquisite polyphony was inexorably rooted in the polyrhythms of Andy González’s bass and in Steve Berrios’ drums, and Jerry González’s own congas that daubed a range of wonderful percussion colours to the musical canvas. It was an irreparable loss when the Fort Apache Band was disbanded, presumably because it had simply run its course, and when Jerry González decided to drop anchor in Madrid, Spain. New York’s loss was Madrid’s gain. Mr. González was not inactive there. He began to perform again with a new group of musicians and fortuitously came into contact with the wonderfully talented Miguel Blanco, a musician, arranger and bassist. Mr. Blanco has proved that his association with Jerry González has been one that is extremely fruitful. In 2012 Mr. Blanco and Mr. González got together to make a spectacular large ensemble record: Music for Big Band.

The year 2014 has seen this unique partnership come together to produce another big band record. However, this time the record is a gorgeous tribute to the Mr. González’s old musical legion. The result is A Tribute to the Fort Apache Band. It is a recording in which Miguel Blanco has undertaken to re-write the Fort Apache charts as an analogue to the original; a journey to the centre of the Fort Apache world taking a digressive walk around, and inside Jerry González’s material to rediscover themes of joy with an ebullience that is truly magnificent. The music does not disappoint, with the contrasting shades and textures that re-discover the youthful character and buoyancy of the originals. Miguel Blanco is a superb writer. He has re-created here music that is sinuous and sustained in which the articulation remains adequately plush to allow the music to shine through as the art it was. It drives the music of the Fort Apache Band and their musical ideas with the kind of conviction that makes it difficult to turn off the disc without listening from beginning to end, again and again. All of this wonderful music has something else going for it. Jerry González makes a grand appearance on the record, stoking the fires that already burn on it with the majesty of a zealot. Mr. González’s horns are a veritable force of nature as he uses phrases to soar above the vaunted melismas of the music. Mr. González’s conga-playing is iconic too. The earthiness and splendour of its African-ness again sets fire to the music, ensuring that the embers crackle and thunder with devastating beauty, and egg the rest of the band on to explore harmonic and rhythmic narratives as never before.

The choice of material is a mix of old Fort Apache Band charts made wholly new. Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” is absolutely sensational. But it is the sinewy beauty of “Agüeybaná” that is striking and sets the tone for the rest of the album. The splendid rhythmic splendour dances around the soaring harmonies of the song to make it one of the most memorable tracks on the album. While the playing of the band is superb throughout, somehow the machismo of Javier Colina’s playing stands out like a spectacular sentinel on the album. Marc Miralta, who enlivened the ensembles of that other ineffable Spaniard, Chano Domínguez, also brings his magnificent playing to this album. But it is ultimately not personalities, but the relationship of all of the members of the band and molten mix forged on the anvils of a magical blacksmith that give the extraordinary character to this album. Everything this big band has to throw at these pieces shows them to their best advantage—fleet-footed propulsion, tongue-in-groove intonation and ensemble, and a sense of momentum that always drives the music in the right direction. The definitive set of Fort Apache Band music is now complete.

Track List – Agüeybaná (feat. Daniel Aldama & Ariel Brínguez); Eighty One (feat. Rafa Águila & Javier Massó “Caramelo”); Earthdance (feat. Dani Juárez); Let’s Call This (feat. Israel Sandoval & Luis Verde); Ugly Beauty (feat. Albert Sanz); Footprints (feat. Javier Colina); Rumba Y Consecuencia (feat. Luis Guerra & Norman Hogue); Sueños Vampíricos (feat. Israel Sandoval & Marc Miralta)

Personnel – Jerry González: trumpet and congas; Miguel Blanco: Musical Director; Javi Martinez “Martintxo”: trumpet; Carlos Rossi: trumpet; Norman Hogue: trombone; Santi Cañada: trombone; Luis Verde: alto and soprano saxophones; Dani Juárez: tenor saxophone and flute; Ariel Brínguez: tenor saxophone and flute; Sergio Bienzobas: baritone saxophone; Israel Sandoval: guitar; Albert Sanz: piano; Toño Miguel: contrabass; Jesús Catalá: percussion; Marc Miralta: drums; Daniel Aldama: percussion; Javier Massó “Caramelo”: piano; Luis Guerra: piano; Javier Colina: contrabass; Rafa Águila: saxophone

Released – 2014
Label – Youkali Music
Runtime – 54:43