Modica Music is proud to announce the May 27, 2022, release of El Tinajón by GRAMMY-nominated and Juno Award-winning saxophonist, composer, and educator Luis Deniz.
On this tremendously varied debut statement, the Cuban-born bandleader coalesces the rich cultural influences from his upbringing in Camaguey and Florida with his move to Canada.
Deniz has maintained an impressive career as a sideman and saxophonist for decades, performing and recording wtih Barry Harris, Howard Johnson, Randy Brecker, Ray Vega, Donald Harrison, and Ingrid Jensen. He has hosted workshops and performances worldwide, fostering a sound that resonates across borders. Deniz’s aptitude for melding traditions focuses on El Tinajón, which carries listeners through sounds from hard bop to Afro-Cuban.
Throughout his artistry, Deniz has captured international awards and recognition. In 2003, he took first place at JOJAZZ, an international jazz competition in Havana. In 2006, he won the Grand Prix de Jazz General Motors at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Today, Deniz is a faculty member at Toronto’s prestigious Humber College and privately instructs large ensembles and individual students.
Wistful, emotionally complex, and fashioned with powerful improvisation, El Tinajón, is a profound kickoff for the bandleader as he pays tribute to his beginnings. Central to the recording is the sensation of longing and its relevance to Deniz’s international identity and immigration to the West from Cuba.
“El Tinajón is the name of a clay pot brought to Cuba by the Spanish in the early 1500s,” says Denis. “The Spaniards originally used it to collect rainwater in the Spanish-style open patios. Not too long after that, the Tinajón became the trademark of the province of Camaguey.” As an immigrant from Cuba, based in Toronto, Canada, the saxophonist felt this was the most honest introduction he could give of himself and his humble beginnings. The experiences of growing up in Florida, Camaguey, and the emotions of emigrating and a sense of longing fueled the project.
With an all-encompassing, velvety tone on saxophone, Deniz’s penchant for imaginative improvisation sits at the core of this engaging project. “I wanted to create emotionally complex music, rather than technically. I tried my best to channel all of the unique cultural and musical experiences I had growing up,” he shares.
The album opens with the bold saxophone/percussion duet “Reflexiones,” a melodic meditation over the driving Afro-Cuban rhythm, Abakuá. Drummer Amhed Mitchel and percussionist Jorge Luis Torres harness a mesmerizing atmosphere with their nuanced rhythmic crisscrossing, played here in the absence of harmonic instruments to augment the fine details of traditional percussive notes.
The band is based over a pedal, playing a heavy-handed series of figures on “La Ceiba de Mayuya.” At the same time, the percussion and drums juxtapose a triplet swing over traditional Afro-Cuban bata drumming. After an eloquent bass solo by Roberto Occhipinti, Deniz and pianist Rafael Zaldivar launch into a lively and intensifying exchange.
“This track is a tribute to a neighborhood in my town of the same name. The town is a beacon of Afro-Cuban musical and religious practice. It was where I first experienced a powerful Yoruba religious ceremony and saw Bata drums being played. Every time I thought of this place and the ceremonies I participated in, John Coltrane came to mind,” Deniz comments.
Dedicated to the bandleader’s wife, “Dutch Flower” finds the group in a straight pop-like power ballad, playing lush harmonies and an emotive melody over a backbeat. Zaldivar’s spare but effective use of synths expands the sonic texture, reminiscent of far-stretching, bloomed flower pedals.
Each member of the band is an outstanding player in their own right. The shining ensemble members coming together as a group is a highlight for Deniz: “I’m a firm believer in the power of a ‘band’ sound, as groups like Irakere, Miles Davis Quintet, Branford Marsalis Quartet were a primary influence. My bandmates are of the same mentality, and we work towards making music and art together. They’re not there to help me validate any greatness on my part. We are only as good as the band is!”
El Tinajón presents a masterful collection of music wrought with Afro-Cuban folkloric influence and accentuated by Deniz’s high-powered musicality, covering a broad range of sounds with a common thread. “As a composer, I just let myself write what I hear. I’m not preoccupied with compositions sounding hard, difficult, or anything of the sort. To me, music is about people, and songs should reflect emotions. That was the main goal I wanted to achieve here,” he reflects. Placing a premium on soul over complexity with a commitment to true self-representation, Luis Deniz shows us at once where he is from and where he will go on this notable debut.
- La Ceiba de Mayuya
- Rumba para Camaguey/Equality
- Entre Dos Ideas
- Dutch Flower
- Strong Together
- Conga para Florida