Herwig_span3
June 2007

Conrad Herwig
Sketches of Spain Y Mas
Half Note Records

A companion piece to trombonist Conrad Herwig’s Grammy-nominated CD Another Kind of Blue—Sketches of Spain Y Mas derives from the same 2003 engagement at the Blue Note in Manhattan and offers listeners similar rewards, not least of which is the pleasure of hearing an all-star ensemble featuring reedmen Paquito D’Rivera and Mario Rivera, trumpeter Brian Lynch, pianist Edsel Gomez, flutist Dave Valentin, bassist John Benitez, drummer Robby Ameen and percussionist Richie Flores—a formidable nonet, to be sure.

Yet for all the talent assembled—and yes, the influence of Eddie Palmieri on the line-up and ensemble dynamics looms large—what makes this recording so enjoyable are the imaginatively devised arrangements included in the “Sketches of Spain” suite, which colorfully comprises “Concerto de Aranjuez,” “Satea” and “Solea,” and the charts for the album’s opening selections, “Solar” and “Seven Steps to Heaven.”

Exactly when these performances were taped during the extended engagement isn’t noted, but beginning with the trumpet-limned, clave-accented “Solar,” it’s clear the ensemble, sounding relaxed, cohesive and confident, is fully prepared for the tasks at hand. The title suite is 25 minutes long and yet seems to pass in half the time as it moves from an insinuating weave of woodwinds, with D’Rivera on clarinet, through passages of muted and lyrical brass that showcase Herwig’s soulful agility, to conguero Flores’ extended improvisation and beyond. The album closes on an exultant note, as both Ameen and Flores put a fierce Afro-Cuban spin on “Petits Machins.” Chouette!

Originally published in June 2007
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