Press/Reviews

Merengue, the national music of the Dominican Republic ferociously driven by percussive provincial rhythms such as pambiche, perico ripiao, el maco, guinchao and palo, is the natural choice for conga master Alex Diaz to blend his native roots with jazz improvisation in Beyond 145th Street .

Diaz and featured saxophonist Ivan Renta continue their musical innovations and tribute to the late saxophonist Mario Rivera, who was associated with Tito Puente, which began with the release of Merengue Jazz King (Self Produced, 2010+). There is a time-honored lineage of merengue saxophonists hailing back to the legendary Tavito Vasquez, who influenced Rivera, popularized the instrument within this genre, and was fundamental in literally picking up the pace of the rhythms. Rivera disciple Renta, who composed "El Comandante" in honor of his mentor, is beneficiary of this hierarchy with his virtuoso contributions throughout this recording.

Pianist Pedro Bermudez ,who penned "El Tigerazo del Bebop" and the title track, displays not only a instinctive sense of the merengue patterns of guajeo, but is a bebop player of the highest caliber. He adds the bona fide element of jazz into the mix with dexterity and technique heightened by the rapid tempos which demand exact execution.

The contagious rhythms are merged with jazz dynamics providing an ideal concept of How Diaz wants merengue jazz to sound. The song choices—Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays," Vince Guaraldi's "Ginza Samba" Cal Tjader's obvious "Santo Domingo"—prove to be the perfect medium from which to expand this unique musical approach. Of course this would not be possible without the superb low-end anchoring of consummate bassist Ruben Rodriguez and hard-hitting trumpeter Nelson "Gazu" Jaime, who is a vital voice of the horn charts.

As global sounds and textures continue to be added to what is known as jazz or improvised music, it continues to transform into novel and vibrant mutant forms. Latin jazz, with its expansive arsenal of intricate cadences and melodies, has definitely been at the forefront of this trend, confirmed by the merengue jazz of Beyond 145th Street .

Track Listing: Yesterdays; Unit Seven; Santo Domingo; Catarey Meren Jam; All Or Nothing At All; El Tigerazo del Bebop; Ginza Samba; El Comandante; Beyond 145th Street.

Personnel: Alex Diaz: congas, timbales; Ray "Chinito" Diaz: tambora, guira; Ivan Renta: alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones; Nelson "Gazu" Jaime: trumpet; Pedro Bermudez: piano; Ruben Rodriguez: bass; Diego Lopez: drums.

Record Label: Self Produced | Style: Latin/World

 

If you are a music collector -- and with more that 2,000 LPs and approximately 4,000 CDs, I consider myself one -- you always pride yourself of having a few rare albums that are unknown to most music fans. Until a few weeks ago, I had one such piece in my collection. In 1990, my good friend, New York percussionist Alex Díaz, produced a recording that was a masterpiece and used Tito Puente's orchestra as a musical backdrop. While this production never reached the general public -- and I called it "No Name" -- it was always a conversation piece. Over the years, there were many who listened to a DAT copy in my house who wondered how such a solid production had never made it into an official album.


I asked Alex the same question many times. His answer was always the same: "Classics never die. It will come out when the time is right". Apparently the time is finally right. A.J. Díaz who since leads Son de la Calle has just released it and the few who had the opportunity to preview it over the years can now join me: "It was about time".


The participation of seasoned musicians like a very young Arturo Sandoval in perhaps his first recording in the United States, Mario Rivera, Hilton Ruiz, Chocolate Armenteros, Nicky Marrero, Papo Vázquez, Charlie Sepúlveda, Steve Berrios, Dave Hazeltine, Walter Booker, Bobby Carcassas, Sony Bravo, Phoenix Rivera, Johnny "Dandy" Rodríguez, Martín Arroyo, Joe Santiago, Brian Lynch, and, of course "the King" Tito Puente, make this production one of the best Latin Jazz recordings in recent memory.

The album starts with what in my opinion is the best rendition of the venerable Merengue "Caña Brava", in a style Alex properly calls Merengue Jazz. What follows is equally exciting - their version of the standard "La Cuna" and compositions like "Tequila y Avila A", "La Puerta del Conde", "Dear Old Stockholm", "Papa Bocó", "Chelsea Bridge", "Morning of Carnival", "Porqué tu sufres lo que yo gozo" and the upbeat "Paris Mambo".

As you play this CD, you cannot help but "see" the mastery of Puente and the versatility of his orchestra surrounding the percussive abilities of Díaz. "Now that I have my own band, it is the right time for this album to come out. It is a clear presentation of my vision as an artist and a bandleader. I learned a lot while I played with Tito. His perspective of music was always to keep it
fresh. Now the audience will have an idea of what Son de la Calle is all about. That is what I been telling you all these years. I wanted to wait for the right time. The time is definitely now!"


This is a recording that will remind you of Tito who, even though he passed away four years ago, can still be heard as much today as during his heyday. I remember clearly what the King used to say, "out of sight, out of mind". Well, this recording of A.J. Díaz clearly brings the arrangements of Puente quickly back to mind and his musical prowess continues to remain visible through his influence on so many of today's multi-talented musicians. This production by A.J. Díaz speaks loud and clear about that legacy. It's a worthy and hot addition to any good Jazz collection. It is time to put my old "No Name" DAT away and replace it with BlackJazz in my shelves. It is an album that has finally flowered under Diaz as producer