No matter where you look this year – at least in the realm of Latin-Jazz – you are unlikely to find a recording where the bass is played with greater melodic beauty than here on Bajo Mundo by the Puerto Rican musician Oskar Cartaya. It is also true that no attempt has been made to ‘lose’ the rhythmic role of the instrument – whether in its electric fretted or fretless incarnation, or as the more traditional contrabass. If anything Oskar Cartaya makes it a point to emphasise this rhythmic character. However, Mr Cartaya simply leans naturally towards melodicism and because he is so gifted his ability to present the bass as both a melodic and harmonic instrument as well is simply sublime, and, it becomes necessary to stress, that too in the kind of company he keeps on this recording.
Actually, the title Bajo Mundo may also even be a slightly underwhelming title to the extent that it suggests that the music on this album is all about the bass, when it is actually much more than that. And Oskar Cartaya celebrates this in his own inimitable way. It’s all about the music of Latin-Jazz, glorified in every one of thirteen original pieces on the disc. For all their teeming surfaces these works don’t have to be treated – and certainly are not treated – as virtuoso demonstrations. Sane, dedicated and gloriously balanced playing by Oskar Cartaya is always welcome, as is the clarity he brings to every aria-like lyrical phrase that literally makes the black dots come alive as melodies leap off the page. And so his technical mastery is never in question here.
What is more attractive as we go down the list of tunes from the witty “Truky Paco”, past “Mateo’s Lullaby”, “Tumbao Cachao” and down to “Almas Gemelas” we marvel more and more at the emotional contrasts Mr Cartaya generates. There are undoubtedly verve and poetry here. And everywhere they amount to communicative urgency and also encompass heightened states of spontaneity and abandon. Every once and a while the journey of his bass is adorned with something special: like on “Truky Paco” and “Los Del Sur”, where the bass comes into contact with the delicately textured and saturated ambience of the young violin virtuoso, Dayren Santamaria. On “Tumbao Cachao” the contrabass is played with a dynamic palette and the melody is articulated with tremendous tone-colour truly worthy of a master-craftsman, as he does while sharing the stage with his mentor, Justo Almario.
Later, when Oskar Cartaya is joined by Stanley Clarke on “A La 70’s SC Style”, Oskar Cartaya is eminently creative in his contrapuntal conversations with the great Mr Clarke. Here – as on “Flamencocho” with the Flamenco guitarist Andrés Valdéz, bailador and jaleo performer Manuel Gutierrez and Diego “El Negro” Alvarez on cajón, as he does likewise with Eligio Claudio ‘Prodigio’- the cuatro player on “Para Ti Latino (V2.0)”. Here his temperament is just that bit wilder as his sound becomes more resonant, his rubato more daring and his rhetoric more imperious. All this combines to give the feeling that there is more at stake in the music and that its ultimate melodic victories are more genuinely hard-won.
Oskar Cartaya – Bajo Mundo is an 18th Latin Grammy Awards Nominee Best Latin Jazz Album.
Track list: 1: Truky Paco; 2: Gafieira; 3: Tum Tum; 4: Mateo’s Lullaby; 5: Bomballenato; 6: Los del Sur; 7: Tumbao Cachao; 8: Flamencocho; 9: A la 70’s (SC Style); 10: Almas Gemelas; 11: Mpc (Machito, Puente, Chico); 12: Para Ti Latino (V.2.0); 13: Get Up (Muévete)
Personnel: Oskar Cartaya: bass; Chistopher R. Coleman: drums; Jonathan Montes: piano; Dayren Santamaria: violin; Tito De Gracia: all percussion; Alex Carballo: trombones; Frank Fontaine: sax; Arturo Solar: trumpet; Justo Almario: clarinet; Chelito De Castro: acordion; Waldo Madera: drums; Giovanni Hidalgo: congas, cua, guiro and many more special guests
Released – 2017
Label – Bajo Mundo Music
Runtime – 1:01:53