Diego Urcola is a trumpet player of uncommon technical finesse. Much of the music on Appreciation is rhythmically intricate and harmonically imposing. Urcola functions within it so flawlessly he seems unaware of its difficulty.
He is from Buenos Aires. While two thirds of his rhythm section (pianist Luis Perdomo/bassist Hans Glawischnig/drummer Eric McPherson) is from north of the border, Urcola’s art is ethnic. The first impression of pieces like “The Natural” and “El Brujo” is overwhelmed by the intensity of Afro-Cuban and Brazilian partido alto rhythms. For jazz listeners who depend on the infinite possibilities of open-ended improvisation for their stimulation, such music can feel too pat and enclosed, however skilled and energetic.
But, upon closer inspection, Appreciation is much more than a samba-jazz dance party. It is a tribute album, with nine Urcola originals dedicated to predecessors whom he reveres. The connections between Urcola’s tunes and the musicians who have inspired him are often intriguingly subtle. “Woody’n Diz,” for Shaw and Gillespie, is partly “Wood’n You” reharmonized and partly the kind of call-to-arms melody that Woody Shaw wrote. Add Urcola’s spitfire solo and it becomes a clever imaginary mind-meld among three trumpet players. “Camila,” to John Coltrane, is “Naima” filtered through Afro-Peruvian lando rhythms and Andean folk consciousness. “Deep” is what a tribute to both Astor Piazzolla and Miles Davis should sound like: melodic tinges of tango brooded over by a muted trumpet.
Brief addendum: In the transition from LPs to CDs, liner photos became a lost art. It need not be so. The photos by Andrea Boccalini beautifully capture the intimacy of the rooms in which this recording was made (Sear Sound Studio in New York), and augment the music with a window into the warm vibe of the session.