Far from the usual well-intended but cliched' "Latin-tinged" vehicles for the Cuban-born D' Rivera's piquant alto sax and clarinet, Habanera is a wonderfully rich, moving and original tonal portrait of the leader's homeland. The album also features the chamber-group backing of Kristjan Jarvi's Absolute Ensemble.
If, like me, you don't hear nearly enough of D'Rivera's sly, lyrical clarinet work, his playing on the haunting title track and the lithe reading of Dizzy Gillespie's "Birks Works" will certainly satiate you. Meanwhile, the "Three Preludes" by George Gershwin finds D'Rivera's alto work as emotional and precise as ever. Gershwin is represented again on the swinging "Variations on 'I Got Rhythm'," in which the Absolute Ensemble's brass and reed voicings make wry contributions, and pianist Kenny Drew Jr. swings like a branch in the March wind.
Other highlights on this highly recommended date are the D'Rivera original "Alborada y Son," which features the percussion work of Mino Cinelu, and a downright sensual romp through the Duke Ellington-Juan Tizol classic "Caravan."