You may think you “know” the Bronx – and the South Bronx – in particular and depending on the time you have spent visiting it you may think you understand its unique character. But listening to The South Bronx Story, a series of vignettes about the barrio in which composer and bass-playing musician Carlos Henriquez grew up you are taken into quite another world. Clearly the intimacy with which Mr Henriquez knows his many-splendoured home is deeply affecting and this is exquisitely painted in the repertoire that unfolds on this album.
Mr Henriquez is a master of his instrument and he brings to it a rumbling gravitas that is rare among his peers. This has earned him enormous respect not just with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, whose bass chair he has held for two decades and more. His Puerto Rican heritage means that his blood throbs with the rhythm of bomba and plena. More than that he has developed a singular voice in the ubiquitous language of Afro-Caribbean music, as he toured the world and impressed audiences not only with his virtuosity, but also with the depth of his pedagogy. He has also made his presence felt as an ambassador of his music on a celebrated trip to Cuba with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, a trip well-documented on record.
The South Bronx Story pees away the diaphanous curtain that flutters across el barrio. The ten songs on the album sound as if they are a sort of loosely-connected soundtrack of his life and inject a cinematic quality, launching into a broodingly percussive groove from the first evocative track “The South Bronx”, which lifts the curtain on the moving musical feast that follows. The music gushes with unfettered joy and wistful expectation through “Hydrants for All”; it roars with an angry flame on charts such as “Boro of Fire” and “Moses on the Cross” and growls and simmers under Mr Henriquez’s spoken word on “Black [Benji]. Likewise, the music ebbs and flows as if in mighty waves through the rest of the repertoire. Mr Henriquez’s vivid notes provide an essential guide to the uninitiated.
As in other recordings he has made as a leader, Mr Henriquez has brought together a celestial cast of musicians. Each one shines in ensemble and on soli that are wonderfully and idiomatically performed. Tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, trombonist Marshall Gilkes, trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and pianist Robert Rodriguez are masterful on their outings. Trumpeter Terell Stafford and drummer Obed Calvaire and percussionist Anthony Almonte are miraculous, and Jeremy Bosch interprets Mr Henriquez’s lyrics with power and poetry. But this is Mr Henriquez’s album; one on which he outdoes himself, as he imbues this music with very special meaning and grace.
Track list – 1: The South Bronx; 2: Hydrants Love All; 3: Boro on Fire; 4: Moses on the Cross; 5: Momma Lorraine; 6: Soy Humano 7: Black [Benji]; 8: Guajeo de Papi; 9: Fort Apache; 10: Hip Hop con Clave
Personnel – Carlos Henriquez: bass, coro, guiro and spoken word [on 7]; Jeremy Bosch: flute, vocals and coro [featured on 2, 4, 6, 8, 10]; Melissa Aldana: tenor saxophone [featured on 4, 7, 9]; Michael Rodriguez: trumpet [featured on 2, 3, 5, 6, 9]; Anthony Almonte: congas and coro [featured on 1, 3, 9, 10]; Marshall Gilkes: trombone [featured on 3, 8]; Robert Rodriguez: piano and Fender Rhodes [featured on 5, 8 – 10]; Obed Calvaire: drums [featured on 1, 3, 9, 10]; Terell Stafford: trumpet [featured on 1, 2, 4, 8]
Released – 2021
Label – Tiger Turn 
Runtime – 1:03:06