While trumpeter Joe Magnarelli’s Reservoir Music debut Persistence (following a long stint with Criss Cross) is not billed as a tribute to Ray Barretto, who passed away since the last Magnarelli album, 2006’s Hoop Dreams, the disc contains many references to the Latin percussionist who was one of Magnarelli’s many employers. There is, to begin with, the Magnarelli original “Ballad for Barretto.” “Joe picked up [the 1948 show tune] ‘Haunted Heart’ … while he was playing with Barretto,” writes Peter Aaron in the linter notes, also pointing out that the “bossa nova groove” of “The Village,” another original, “recalls the music of Joe’s time with Barretto.” And then there is the near-title tune, “Persist,” also penned by Magnarelli, which was called “Mags” (Magnarelli’s nickname) when Barretto recorded it on his 2003 album Time Was—Time Is. But none of this is to say that Persistence actually sounds like Barretto. “Persist,” for example, has been stripped of its Latin arrangement and is played in 4/4 time, and even “Ballad for Barretto” doesn’t really suggest Barretto’s sound, settling for an easy, if elegiac, mood.
Persistence is a good, varied straightahead quintet set, in which the leader presents originals that serve as springboards for strong soloing by baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington, and about an even number of standards that only suggest their sources in nominal statements of the melody. (“Soul Sister” is claimed as an original, though Magnarelli acknowledges it is a waltz-time adaptation of “Body and Soul.”) Hazeltine and Kenny Washington evoke the title “I Had the Craziest Dream” by passing wild, short solos back and forth between them during the song, and the band, which sounds like a ’50s ensemble for much of the album, advances a decade into ’60s soul-jazz crossover for “D Train Boogaloo.”
The most inventive playing may come during the reportedly impromptu “You and the Night and the Music,” which proceeds at a rapid tempo, beginning with Magnarelli, on mute, joisting with a walking bass, then proceeding to a baritone/drum conversation, before the trumpet comes back sans mute and takes it out with the baritone in boppish pursuit. But the track is just the best of some excellent blowing by a sympathetic group of musicians.