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Garabatos, Vol. 1

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Album Review

Garabatos Volume One, the 2009 Cuneiform label debut album by New York's ten-piece Positive Catastrophe "little big band," is touted as a confluence of Sun Ra and Eddie Palmieri. Co-led by Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and flügelhorn and percussionist Abraham Gomez-Delgado, PC feature some of N.Y.C.'s best and brightest creative jazz talent, who bring enthusiasm and chops to the realization of the co-leaders' vision. This outfit seems to understand how to win listeners over to the fiery side of free jazz, just as Sun Ra did; the Arkestra's Gilmore and Allen could blister the paint off a wall as effectively as any of the horns on Coltrane's Ascension, but Ra knew that a big band swing arrangement and "space is the place" chant could get pretty much any audience dancing in the aisles, even those without a single free jazz disc in their home libraries. While not quite as incendiary as the aforementioned, PC bring the avant-gardist pedigree from Bynum and the Latin groove quotient from Gomez-Delgado, and the mixture usually clicks. The complex multi-layered Latin groove and interlocking horn and rhythm section parts of the opening "Plena Organization" jab with unison stops and starts before seguing into a percolating vamp beneath Bynum's flailing cornet solo buildup — the tight punctuating horns soon give way to looser groupings along with the up-front unbridled saxophones of Michaël Attias and Matt Bauder before the entry of unaccompanied rambling percussives. The transmogrification of Latin into something else is already complete, and the album has scarcely begun. Singer Jen Shyu opens "Travels, Pts. 1-2" with some spacy vocalizing over the ensemble members' free-form probings, and soon she is singing about interplanetary travel over a mellow but increasingly unsettled jazzy backdrop in a way that brings the Sun Ra connection front and center. "Plena Sequiro" begins with high spirits and punched-up ensemble workouts until Shyu brings her erhu — another element of pan-cultural surprise — into the mix as all the instruments join in a murmuring, skittering dialogue before they once again coalesce.

"Stillness/Life," an after-hours slow jazzer from Bauder's pen, features a torchy vocal delivered with nuanced expressiveness by Shyu, whose stylings here tip toward any number of straight-ahead female jazz singers through the ages. But Shyu is only one talent among many in this tentet, and the democracy inherent in the ensemble's design gives everyone chances to shine, including Pete Fitzpatrick (Clem Snide) on electric guitar, often the most rock-oriented presence, stretching out in nearly jam band blues-rock mode on "Travels, Pt. 3" and elsewhere pushing past distorted and post-grungy tones with an array of intelligently employed 21st century sonic effects. At less than three and a half minutes in length, "Post Chordal" marches along in stops and starts with a twisted Mingus vibe brought to life by Attias' prominent baritone, nearly in Pepper Adams "Moanin'" territory. The studio-recorded "Travels, Pt. 3" bleeds seamlessly into "Travels, Pt. 4," which centers on a slow blues with Gomez-Delgado's Spanish-language vocal, recorded with somewhat less fidelity at Brooklyn's Zebulon club before a loudly appreciative audience and capturing the immediacy of PC in live performance. Despite the Latin groove episodes driven by Gomez-Delgado's percussion, Garabatos Volume One is ultimately — aside from the party-ready live material — creative music for listening, filled with enough twists and turns to remain unpredictable and justify its place on the Cuneiform roster. Creative big band and avant jazz listeners should find plenty to enjoy here, while those more attuned to straightforward Latin jazz and pop might wish the band would engage in a bit less rhythmus interruptus, keeping those infectious beats churning away longer before diverting attention toward more exploratory fare.

Garabatos, Vol. 1, Positive Catastrophe
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  • $9.99
  • Genres: Jazz, Music, Latino
  • Released: Sep 07, 2010

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