Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Roland Vazquez's "The Visitor" Is Superb Big Band Jazz

Composer-Arranger-Drummer Roland Vazquez has been on the scene for sometime and in the late 70s was a member of Clare Fischer’s all-star band “Salsa Picante.” Later working in New York, he attended the Manhattan School of Music, obtaining a Masters in Music and while continuing to play, lead ensembles and compose, he also started teaching at the Manhattan School. He has also taught at University of Michigan and the American Academy in rome to illustrate his experiences. His compositions have not been limited to jazz, but also chamber music, and have been performed in a number of contexts including one that was for a string quartet and orchestra. His new recording, “The Visitor” (RVCD/Roland Music) is a big band recoding that includes several of his compositions that he has been performing, but with the help of a grant from The Aaron Copland Fund For Music, he was able to get this recording memorialized in a studio and issued.

Besides composing six of the seven selections, Vazquez conducts the wonderful big band heard here. I confess not being familiar with most of the musicians on this recording. Joel Frahm on saxophones was the most familiar name but many of the participants have made a strong impression including the rhythm section of pianist Luis Perdomo; guitarist pete McCann; electric bassist James Genus; drummer Ignacio Berroa; and percussionist (also on congas) Samuel Torres. The compositions are inspired, the arrangements vital and the solos are striking.

The opening composition, “
Urantia” is taken for a mythical name for earth and after an opening section with some wonderful piano by Perdomo, both Aaron Heick on alto sax and Alex Norris on trumpet solo propelled by the Afro-Cuban rhythmic foundation laid by the rhythm section. “Thru a Window,” opens with a languid unaccompanied piano by Perdomo section before the tempo kicks up a notch with Christos Rafaelides adding coloring on the vibes with e composer’s exhilarating arrangement for the reeds and brass. There is also strong tenor from Dan Willis, soprano sax from Roger Rosenberg, and with striking percussion playing from Berroa and Torres. Torres’ percussion evokes the ocean tide coming ashore at the beginning of the title track which is a feature of Frahm’s saxophone and Perdomo’s piano. One is delighted by Vazquez’s layering of sounds and the interplay between the brass and reeds.

One might find it impossible not to be at least tapping one’s feet on “
Whirlpool” with its driving and funky latin rhythm, with Heick’s strong alto playing benefiting from the imaginative musical colors Vazquez’s has provided him. “Sevilla” is a reflection of a time in medieval Spain when their was co-existence between Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities and the inspiration of that time compared to contemporary intolerance with some exquisite playing by Perdomo. Clare Fischer’s “Guarabe’” was part of a Grammy Award winning recording, “Salsa Picante,” and this lively big band recasting serves as a fitting salute to a mentor with more spirited piano and alto saxophone, with Perdomo introducing a tempo change introducing a blustery baritone sax solo by Rosenberg followed by the horns soaring behind Norris’ fiery trumpet and to the performances exciting conclusion.

The concluding “
The Path of Change” is described as “an episodic ‘Latin rhythmic chamber jazz,’” that was more recently translated from small group to full big band orchestration and provides guitarist McCann to take the forefront with some Santana inspired playing prior to Berroa and Torres taking the spotlight as a baritone sax and responding horns provide a musical backdrop. This is a strong conclusion to one of the best big band recordings I have heard in some time. Highly recommended. This is available from cdbaby and downloadable at itunes. His website is

For purposes of FTC regulations, I received a review copy from the publicist for this release.

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