Sweet as a well-made mojito
From the September, 2017 issue
It took Tumbao Bravo just two days to record its most recent CD. Since most bands take much longer to record an album, you might think that's too little time to make something excellent. Think again. El Nido-The Nest is Tumbao Bravo's fifth CD of Afro-Cuban jazz; their first four have garnered numerous awards and have received wide airplay. This one likely will be greeted just as enthusiastically.
The CD kicks off with founder Paul VornHagen's "Flight to Sanibel," a mambo that perfectly captures the son montuno style of Cuban jazz. The percussion section of Olman Piedra's timbales (Michael Gutierrez will be appearing at Kerrytown) and Gregory "Greco" Freeman's congas accompany Patrick Prouty's bass and Brian Di Blassio's piano on a syncopated repeating figure with an irresistible groove. When VornHagen's flute and Paul Finkbeiner's trumpet enter with the melody we are transported to the tropics--or at least as far as Florida. The beaches, breezes, sun, and sea are all there in that sound. Here, and throughout the recording, they sound authentic without being academic and innovative without being capricious, combining authoritative technique with bold, yet relaxed, playing.
"Gia No Cry" is a funky cha-cha in a boogaloo rhythm, with plenty of strut and attitude. Cuban jazz usually doesn't use the typical trap set, so there's no thumping bass drum, but there's plenty of muscular drive from the timbales/conga/cowbell combination. The absence of the kick drum highlights the subtleties of the lighter percussion. In Piedra and Freeman's hands, with VornHagen adding guiro and claves, and Prouty's bass adding both bottom and punch, the rhythms are robust and complex, constantly changing like an undulating, shape-shifting jigsaw puzzle.
"Consolation," by John Barron, who was Tumbao Bravo's original bass player, is a bolero, the Cuban equivalent of the ballad, and features a gorgeous melody perfectly suited to Finkbeiner's flugelhorn. Add soulful low harmony from VornHagen's alto sax, spare and elegant solos from both Di Blassio and Finkbeiner, and the result is
as sweet as a well-made mojito and just as intoxicating.
VornHagen's title tune starts off as a stately cha-cha, but after a smooth modulation and an ingenious rhythm change, surprisingly cued by the piano, it settles into a cheerful mambo, with VornHagen introducing yet another tonal color with his piccolo. There are similar treasures throughout: The melody of VornHagen's "Wake Up Call" is so lyrical you can almost hear words sung to it. Prouty's "Sons of Bassett," with its sinuous bass line, sounds especially sinister and James Bond-ish when doubled by VornHagen's baritone sax. And "Elephants," which VornHagen composed in Cuban 6/8 rhythm, was inspired by the sounds of elephants walking down a dusty road.
When Tumbao Bravo played at Top of the Park there were plenty of salsa dancers gyrating to their music. There's no dance floor at the Kerrytown Concert House, where the band hosts its record release party on September 15, but there'll be nothing stopping you from dancing in your seat. Afterward you can dance to Tumbao Bravo's music at home and, if you're like me, you won't have much use for the eject button on your CD player for a while.
[Originally published in September, 2017.]
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