By Marcela Joya
If there is something more complicated than creating a unique sound with a distinctive touch – especially in the diverse and widely competitive New York music scene – it is, to lead and create a collective with an identifiable sound. That, one might say, is an intense endeavor. Not only maintaining the band but making it NOT resemble any other.
In Latin music, few have come close to what the orchestras of Tito Rodriguez or Mario Bauzá achieved. In Latin jazz, lately, there are Big Band recordings that not only sound similar to one another but, come with a disguised a “political undertone” that overwhelms the significance of the music.
All the more reason to celebrate True Flight, the debut recording by The Bronx Conexión- Latin Jazz Big Band, led the by the multi-talented musician Victor Rendón and made up of 21 veteran players, whose impacts lies in the transparency and delicacy of the content and the ensemble’s distinctive sound.
Of the nine tracks, seven are original compositions. Indeed, a right choice (as listeners are tired of hearing versions of versions). Rendón’s ability to compose and conduct is highly versatile, and pianist Joe Mannozzi’s colorful arrangements fruitfully compliment Rendón’s craft. As evidence, “Café Sin Leche” (coffee, no milk) is a danceable track that, in spite of a few predictable breaks, surprises us with its rhythmic twists and honeyed and, at the same time, raging solos by trumpeter Claudio Roditi. Altogether a charming mix.
The track entitled, “True Flight” (by Rendón), is my favorite. I vividly recall hearing it for the first time at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, a venue where the band plays on the second Tuesday of each month, a year or so ago, and feeling as if a drizzle splattered my body on a hot summer day. Which is to say, it was refreshing. The tune is an infectious mambo-style composition carved with details that retain aspects of the tradition while, at the same time, stirring conventional New York mambo melodic lines. This is one of the tracks where the listener can clearly appreciate the orchestra’s distinctive sound.
True Flight is an honest, ambitious and unpretentious album. It is a recording that, in its complexity, rejoices the beauty of simplicity. “Lagos,” a bembé composed by Rick Faulkner, for example, is one of those smooth, savory pieces you might want to dance to but remain silent, eyes closed, while listening: An eight-minute relaxation treatment.
Given the virtuosity displayed on arrangements and compositions, I cannot ignore the inclusion of two over-played covers that do not live up the band’s potential. “It’s the old problem of playing versions,” Oscar Peterson wrote once, “if you’re going to do a version, it can not be just as good as one of your compositions, it has to be hilarious, there are no middle terms.”
Reinterpreting “Europa” (Carlos Santana and Tom Coster) and “No Woman, No Cry” (Bob Marley) is no easy task, but I wonder, why bother when dozens and dozens of mediocre versions of the numbers already exist? Also, I wonder, if perhaps, the vocals with Afro-Peruvian instrumentation are the weakest of all?
In all other respects, listening to the album is a pleasant, True Flight. Something that, given the state of recent Latin Jazz Big Band productions is welcome music to my ears, and very much appreciated.
TRACKS: True Flight, Generoso, Café Sin Leche, Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile), Buena Gente, Island Woman, Oriente, Lagos, No Woman, No Cry.
Purchase: Descarga.com: http://www.descarga.com/cgi-bin/db/25936.10 Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Flight-Victor-Rendon-Conexion-Latin-Jazz/dp/B01DK5DDRS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459526093&sr=8-1&keywords=victor+rendon