It's difficult to believe that after 26 years of playing in name jazz ensembles - most notably Dizzy Gillespie's from 1980-1990 - that Codes is Ignacio Berroa's debut album as a leader. Berroa is one of the most in-demand session and concert drummers in jazz, having played with everyone form Chick Corea to Chico Baurque, from Charlie Haden to Tito Puente and Joao Bosco. And on Codes, the title's meaning is reflected in its contents: jazz itself is a coded language, one that contains hints, traces, specters, pronouncements, and about what's informed it, and how it in turn reacts and informs its culture. Berroa's ensembles are as various as the musical languages he speaks, yet they are all, he says in his beautiful liner essay, his vision of Latin, or, he refers to Mario Bauza's tag, Afro-Cuban jazz. And so they are. Jazz was Berroa's early love; his heritage, however, is Latin, and he has always, wherever he has appeared, brought both to bear in some fashion in his playing. On Codes, he seeks to express that wide, bountiful basket of color, freedom, experiment, and of course rhythm; he employs two saxophonists, David Sanchez and Felipe Lamoglia, separately and together; pianist and keyboardist Gonzalez Rubalcaba, and pianist Eddie Simon likewise contribute; both John Pattitucci (acoustic bass) and Armando Gola (electric and acoustic bass) are on this date. There are no less than five percussionists who appear variously. Berroa mixes his languages and creates codes through the album. On the opener "Matrix," both synth and acoustic piano are employed, as are acoustic and electric basses and dual saxophones. Here, post-bop and Latin rhythms touch on knotty funk grooves. The bebop of Gillespie meets the immediacy of post-bop and striated Cuban rhythm on "Woody 'N' You." But the album's true hinge piece is the nine-and-a-half minute "Joao Su Merced." Here electric and acoustic keyboards, three percussionists in addition to Berroa's drums, electric bass, and Lamoglia's soprano begin with Afro-Cuban rhythms engaging groove, funk, and electric jazz Miles-style. Bebop cuts in on the dance for a bit at the halfway point, the outside struts in and blows on the soprano solo, the grooved-out soul-jazz reenters for a bit before the cut is taken out in a percussion and chant orgy of rhythm before whispering into the post-bop "La Comparsa," a ballad done with counterpoint This cut alone makes the album worth the purchase price, but there isn't a single seam in it; not one substandard moment. This is fresh, compelling, visionary music. Let's hope this is the first of many offerings for Berroa as a leader.
All Music Guide
Ignacio Berroa spreads contemporary Latin jazz before him everywhere he goes. It's the music of Dizzy Gillespie, the music of Mario Bauza, and the music of Gonzalo Rubalcaba, David Sanchez, Ed Simon, John Patitucci, and the other members of Berroa's band.
Along with a vibrant Latin jazz rhythm and accented melodies, the ensemble adds invigorating solos to its successful recipe. Berroa and his rhythm mates hold down the group's foundation while two superb saxophonists and two creative pianists stretch the limits of their range.
What are the Codes that Berroa has chosen to express by his album's title?
That's easy. He's surely referring to the universal language. His music reflects the traditional music of Cuba and Africa, the big band music of Dizzy Gillespie, the Brazilian folk essence of Antonio Carlos Jobim, and the modern jazz of Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter, as well as the contemporary freshness that exists all over the club, festival and concert circuit today. Jazz is a coded language, and Berroa's ensemble communicates in that medium fluently.
La Comparsa and "Joao Su Merced dig down for a traditional look at the roots of Latin jazz. "Matrix finds the ensemble flowing with a sound that is very much of today. Pinocchio also presents a contemporary look at the heightened spirits of Latin jazz, while "Partido Alto and "Realidad y Fantasia flow smoothly with the kind of ballad qualities that remain timeless.
Berroa closes with a lovely bolero that features Sanchez, Simon and Patitucci in a musical conversation that warms the heart. Throughout his session, the veteran drummer shares the spotlight and propels his stellar ensemble with the use of a language that they all understand fluently: jazz.