Dusted Reviews

Jerry Gonzalez & The Fort Apache Band - Rumba Buhaina

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Jerry Gonzalez & The Fort Apache Band

Album: Rumba Buhaina

Label: Random Chance

Review date: Dec. 6, 2005

As one of the longest playing ensembles in jazz, period, the Fort Apache Band seems to have arrived at the apex of life's climb, with the hard work nearly behind them, and an exhilarating yet effortless cruise ahead. With the long awaited Rumba Buhaina: The Music of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, this veritable congress of journeyman jazz players cuts loose in way that hasn't quite been captured before, quietly demonstrating a confident mastery of hard bop dynamics and interplay, absolute respect for the compositions of their forebears, and the ingenuity to instill these well worn charts with the fiery renewal of Fort Apache's trademark urban rumba. It's no secret that the Fort Apache Band isn't mentioned in a sentence that doesn't begin with the name of Jerry Gonzalez, the group's founder, leader, and principal instrumentalist. On Rumba Buhaina, however, the band's chemistry, confidence and discipline allow Gonzalez to inch back from the limelight in a way that he's not often afforded in a live setting, or, indeed, on many of the group's previous recordings, nearly half of which have been live outings.

Since Fort Apache's seminal Ya Yo Me Cure, the band's first recording that included a lineup of artists including SNL trombonist Steve Turre, Afro-Cuban drum master Milton Cardona, and pianist Hilton Ruiz on a collection of near-psychedelic reworkings of standards like “Caravan” and “Nefertiti” (not to mention a smattering of Afro-Cuban chants and the “I Love Lucy” theme retold as a dizzying duel between Ruiz, Gonzalez on conga and his brother Andy on bass) the group has displayed an uncanny ability to balance the frenetic pace of guaguanco with the cool restraint found in the late ’50s and early ’60s Blue Note catalog as well as that of Thelonius Monk. The journey has been long but nearly ruler-straight, wavering only slightly at the occasional tragedy (sax player Carter Jefferson and John Stubblefield both passed during their tenures with the Fort Apache Band) and again at Gonzalez's fascinating brush with stardom, which culminated in an appearance in Calle 54 (Francisco Trueba's coffee table movie about Latin Jazz) and the beginning of his newfound ex-pat residency in Madrid and Barcelona, yielded his nearly unacknowledged foray into flamenco experimentalism. Gonzalez is ever the economist with his conga playing, but even shows a refreshing bit of bravado on the quinto on a few cuts, especially near the end of “Crisis” and on the title track. Similarly, he eschews the crutch-like mute that dominated his trumpet playing on Jerry Gonzalez y los Piratas de Flamenco in favor of a clear, open sound that recalls Lee Morgan more than it does Miles Davis.

Gonzalez has done well to harness the energy of the band to return to his ongoing thesis of Afro-Cuban'ized hard bop and focus the group's talent toward the Jazz Messengers catalog. After all, the group has functioned, in so many ways, like a Messengers for the cross-cultural age, both as a compositional war chest and young cat training ground. Whereas percussionist Blakey's tutelage produced so many accomplished sax and trumpet players, Gonzalez has traditionally held down both the role of conguero and trompetista, and therefore the group's sound has always relied heavily on the presence of a sax player to add color to the otherwise meaty rhythmic foundation. Like Jefferson and Stubblefield before him, Joe Ford balances a number of necessary gifts, including the ability to bring sparks and muscle to his melodic soloing, as well as the confidence to become the entire front line on his own when selections like “Along Came Betty” (the Benny Golson-penned entry into the Messengers repertoire) begin to veer more closely toward straight rumba and Gonzalez puts down his horn to play conga along with drummer/percussionist Steve Berrios. Ford, who also contributes the original cha-cha “Madi's Smile” to this volume, gives equal time to alto and soprano sax here, as he does live. His soprano work brings an almost uncharacteristic sweetness to this very Bronx-flavored crew, but on the ensemble original “Rumba Buhaina,” which harks more to Blakey's African research than any of the lineups which included Lee Morgan or Freddie Hubbard, Ford rides mostly on the fringes, raising the pulse and heat of the group until Gonzalez and Berrios steal the show with accelerated rumba crossfire. This fiercely bilingual statement surfaces on nearly every selection on Rumba Buhaina, including the creepily noble retelling of Shorter's “This Is For Albert,” which features Berrios on cajon, a wooden crate re-imagined as a conga, setting a crackling, popping and thunderous bed for Ford's lithe melodic work. Even when it seems Jerry Gonzalez and Steve Berrios are forced to overdub some of the percussion to replicate a more traditional rumba ensemble, the playing sounds remarkably fresh and spontaneous, a testament to their quarter century of chemistry.

Whereas Joe Ford and the polydextrous Steve Berrios – grandfathers both – often seem to represent the youth and fire of the group, pianist Larry Willis and bassist Andy Gonzalez weigh in solidly with traditionalist grace and swinging fortitude. On the album’s many up-tempo pieces, Willis, a band leader in his own right as well as a sought after accompanist, displays an ability to stomp along with the rhythm section on his left hand while painting in highlights of flash and color with his right. Interspersed through Rumba Buhaina, however, are openings and opportunities for Willis to stretch out and explore the dynamic range afforded him by the occasional ballad, particularly on Willis' own “The Day You Said Goodbye,” and “Wildflower,” one of the four Shorter compositions on the album. Willis' delicate, floral playing acts like a cooling tonic to the fierce energy of the group in rumba mode, much like the way akpwons (singers) in Afro-Cuban religious ceremonies use “cooling” phrases and songs to placate a possessing deity to release a dancer from its trance-inducing grip.

With bassist Andy Gonzalez sitting out the Fort Apache Band's recent live dates, and otherwise relegated to a wheelchair due to diabetes, a non-believer might be tempted to look at this session as a possible swan song for the group's longstanding lineup. While the entire album documents proof to the contrary, two selections in particular stand out as examples as to why Gonzalez (whose accomplishments range from working with Dizzy Gillespie, playing a session powerhouse on countless Fania salsa albums, and co-leading Libre with Manny Oquendo) represents both the quiet wisdom and kinetic rhythmic bedrock of the group. Gonzalez thunders in with authority to introduce Freddie Hubbard's “Crisis,” pushing the band along through the arrangement's mid-tempo head, hard swinging bridge, and into the closing guaguanco finale. On the group's sole collaborative composition “Rumba Buhaina,” a fitting homage to the album's namesake (Blakey took the name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina when he converted to Islam during his stay in West Africa, shortly after World War II), Andy Gonzalez tears through a catalog of bass statements that recalls a solo from Cachao on his best days, but stretches even further to include snippets of oud-like pitch bending, a cavernous contrabass growl, and finally a propulsive tumbao that elicits audible cackling from his band mates before the group leaps into the most energetic playing of the album. On the strength of Andy Gonzalez's bass work alone, evidence abounds on Rumba Buhaina that Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band have expertly distilled the worldly and muscular spirit of the School of Blakey, but the torrent of groove and energy within suggests that this is far from the group's last excursion.

By Andy Freivogel

Read More

View all articles by Andy Freivogel

Find out more about Random Chance

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.