The Big Band Theory
As Hector Martingnon writes "Should you be insane enough to want to start a Big Band…. do it in New York! … It was at that veteran of all venerable old Manhattan venues, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the Lower East Side, where my flirts with the Big Band format became a love affair, with all its challenges and intricacies. Starting off as an experimental workshop, with personnel, compositions and arrangements varying every week, some suitable for the dance needs of the crowd and some suitable for a full concert, Hector Martignon's Banda Grande slowly but surely came of age."
The 20 or so instrumentalists provides a composer and arranger with a wide palette of musical colors and styles which are explored here, "from the Baroque sinfonía concertante, visiting the inquiring language of the sixties' and seventies’ Jazz, to the Brazilian eccentricities of a Hermeto Pascoal, adding, of course, my own honest attempts at composing and arranging." Budgetary and space issues forced him "to divide the recording into four sessions, each of which left (almost) untouched: 1. rhythm section plus some soloists, 2. horns, 3. strings and 4. some solo overdubs."
The breath of his musical ambitions is heard early on in the opening "Hell's Kitchen Sarabande" with its contrasting musical colors set against a latin-infused funky groove that celebrates Hell's Kitchen's strangely alluring decay before it became an extension of the touristy Times Square. There is marvelous alto sax (Alex Han?) heard here set against a surging background, followed by Andy Hunt's gruff but melodic trombone. The salsa flavored "99 Macdougal Street" was inspired by a year living on that Village street and was written while a member of Ray Barretto's New World Spirit. The leader's piano, Samuel Torres' percussion and Christos Rafalides' vibraphone, along with David De Jesus hard bop styled alto sax stand out on this multi-layered performance that shifts from salsa to straight hard bop.
Martignon's creation of interesting instrumental voicings is also displayed on the rendition of the bossa standard of Bruno Martino, "Estate," with the leader playing accordion along with Christos Rafalides' vibraphone underpinning Chris Washburne's trombone along with tenor sax by Chelsea Baratz, with the leader's arrangement providing a swirling setting for the strong solo statements and the fresh take on this classic. This lively rendition is followed by songs inspired by his stay in Germany and the Christmas markets there. Inspire by groups of trombones playing Christmas songs there inspired "Trombone Chorale" with its integration of a string quartet with the big band sonorities and all the four members of the trombone section all spotlighted. Similarly bridging the classical and jazz worlds is a standard of European Sacred Music, "Erbarme Dich," one of the most haunting Arias (No. 47) out of the "St. Matthew Passion" by J.S. Bach, with an alto vocal by Brenda Feliciano.
A playful rendition of Bill Evans' "Interplay" has muted trumpets while Enrique Fernández' baritone helps anchors the performance with solos from Chelsea Baratz on tenor sax, John Benitez on bass, Vince Cherico on drums and Samuel Torres on congas and maracas. Martignon observes "Nostalgias del Futuro is the first movement of a “Concerto for Harp and Orchestra” I wrote for my fellow Colombian and harp virtuoso Edmar Castañeda." This also showcases his deftness in arranging strings in a big band context and avoiding a syrupy tone. "Maestra" was the first composition of Martignon for a big band and this Cumbia has Martin Vejarano on the indigenous Gaita (a sort of flute with reeds).
The closing "The Fruit Vendor's Last Dream" was inspired by the fruit vendor who immolated himself on January 4, 2011, protesting against the corruption and abuse of power exercised by the authorities in Tunisia, giving rise to the Arab Spring. This performance has a stately quality with the centerpiece being a moving solo from bassist Benitez. It serves as a coda to a marvelous big band recording that will intrigue and fascinate listeners who will discover new delights with repeated listening.
I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367). Here is Hector Martignon's Banda Grande playing "Interplay."