On the Way-- Negroni's Trio

The exceptional Negroni's Trio compares quite favorably to Latin jazz piano trios led by such artists as Michel Camilo, Hilario Duran, and Chucho Valdes. The Miami-based trio was formed in 2002 by the father and son from Puerto Rico, pianist Jose Negroni and drummer Nomar Negroni, and On the Way is their seventh CD, recorded live in concert at Miami-Dade College. The trio's distinctive blend of jazz with Afro Caribbean and European classical ingredients has never sounded better, thanks in part to the addition on several tracks of another South Florida jazz treasure, the riveting saxophonist Ed Calle. Negroni's Trio has had several bassists over the years, and Josh Allen makes an excellent first impression on this CD. The accomplished violinist Federico Britos is heard to good effect on the concluding track "Retrospection."

The appealing theme of the title track, "On the Way," has slight intimations of "Stormy Weather," and is vibrantly articulated and expanded upon by Jose's piano, with Allen's throbbing bass and Nomar's nuanced, energetic drum work acting as propellants. Jose's ethereal, classically-oriented intro to "Matices" leads to a fiery staccato line handled by his piano and Calle's piercing tenor, with a prevailing flamenco-infused vibe. Nomar's tap dancing solo, with an answering vamp from Calle, is remarkably well-executed. Jose's spot shows off his harmonic depth, and Calle's emotionally charged solo is laden with dissonant shrieks and sweeping circular phraseology. Calle's intense, committed style rivals those of Miquel Zenon and Paquito D'Rivera. The pianist's melodic comping offers a pleasing and fitting contrast, while the reprise is brisk, decisive, and packs a wallop.

Jose's intro and theme reading of "Blue Forest" displays two-handed dexterity, his strong left hand ostinato complementing his striking melody. His concise solo is alive with vigorous lyrical variations prior to the reprise and Nomar's closing boisterous excursion over his father's unrelenting vamp. "Estaté" is the first of two selections not composed by Jose. The pianist's imaginative prelude flows easily into his warmly rendered treatment of the familiar theme. His improvisation explores the melodic and harmonic essences of the tune in glowing fashion. Allen's solo succeeds in enhancing the thematic content through subtle alterations. Nomar's skilled and textured brush work brings yet another element of sophistication to this version.

"Dancing With the Bass" is a kaleidoscopic venture that features Calle's swirling tenor in both contrapuntal and unison passages with the trio. Allen's compelling solo is intoned with precision, and Calle's forceful improv is again to be admired for its moving depth of feeling. Calle's reprise, this time with a lack of space for fills by piano, bass, or drums, better accentuates the undulating logic of Jose's extended theme. "Oak Tree" is initially reminiscent of "Norwegian Wood," but the pianist's dazzling arpeggios and scampering runs take it on its own uniquely Latin-spirited way. Allen solos with confident authority before Jose's up tempo, escalating flight of fancy, his technical mastery and communicative power combining to entice and astound.

The dramatically voiced "Expressions" is highlighted by Calle's invigorating soprano in a tango-flavored arrangement that inspires urgently passionate solos by the saxophonist and pianist. The hearty work of Allen and Nomar, plus Jose's full-bodied accompaniment of Calle provide other essential inputs to this stirring track. Jose's disarming arrangement of the Claude François-Jacques Revaux tune "My Way" brings its original impressionistic feel to the fore. Allen's resonant arco bass meshes with the reflective interpretation by the pianist, one much more delicate and unpretentious than Frank Sinatra's famous approach.

"Looking for You" includes a fugue-like prelude that is set against Calle's commanding tenor and Allen's booming bass lines. Calle's soaring free form improv is encouraged at first by just Nomar's actively zealous drumming until Jose joins in the fray. The exclamatory theme itself is choppily delivered by Calle, and thus provides room for more of Nomar's disparate exertions. Guest violinist Federico Britos plays the yearning "Retrospection" with Jose supplying heartfelt fills while occasionally participating liltingly on the melody as well. This exquisite miniature comes and goes in a flash (3:27), but leaves a lasting impression, as does this marvelous CD as a whole.

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Scott Albin