Argentine trumpeter and flugelhornist Diego Urcola puts a lot into his lush, layered and highly textured music. He internalizes sounds from South America, Latin America and the Caribbean, and he makes no secret of his love for the tango. He’s assembled a stellar lineup for his new recording, and when the elements gel, the music is vibrant and intense. Such peaks are far apart on Viva, though, separated by valleys of lackluster ballads and insomnia-curing ordinariness.
Urcola begins well enough, blowing a sophisticated solo on “Tango Azul,” a lilting number in 7/8 that features some fantastic runs by pianist Edward Simon and a killer, tethering bass line by Avishai Cohen. Wild dialogue between Pernell Saturnino’s hand percussion and Dave Samuels’ marimba turns “Afroraffo” into an island party. And “Blues for Jimmy” is exactly that: a showcase for the fine blowing of the great saxophonist Jimmy Heath. (Drummer Antonio Sanchez, reedsman Paquito D’Rivera and trombonist Conrad Herwig complete the cast.)
But too much of the album fades into the background, with slow tangos blending into one another and ballads such as “Emilia” turning too saccharine for their own good. Urcola had some real stars of Afro-Cuban and Caribbean jazz on hand here. Hopefully next time there will be more life to the party.