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Charlie Sepúlveda and the Turnaround: Songs for Nat (HighNote)

Review of trumpeter's album inspired by his wife and the devastation of his native Puerto Rico

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Cover of Songs for Nat by Charlie Sepúlveda and the Turnaround
Cover of Songs for Nat by Charlie Sepúlveda and the Turnaround

The Nat in question is not Adderley (nor, for that matter, “King” Cole), but rather the trumpeter’s wife Natalia, and these nine songs, written by Charlie Sepúlveda in the wake of the devastating storms that knocked out his native Puerto Rico (but without directly addressing that situation either), were inspired by her. Not that any of this backstory is essential for an appreciation. What matters is that Sepúlveda and his longtime band—tenor saxophonist Norberto Ortiz, pianist Bienvenido Dinzey, bassist Gabriel Rodriguez, drummer Francisco Alcalá, and conguero Gadwin Vargas—have cooked up a particularly steamy set of contemporary Latin jazz that bucks convention while honoring the institution.

Sepúlveda is a veteran of Eddie Palmieri’s band (Mr. EP, the leader’s Grammy-nominated previous release, was a tribute to same), and he’s worked with many Latin-jazz giants over the years. But he’s also contributed to recordings by rock/pop innovators like David Byrne and Paul Simon, and that flexibility has served him well in his own music. The first seconds of “Exit 4,” Songs for Nat’s opener, could easily have rocked a Steely Dan jam, and “Nat’s Blues,” the only number for which Dinzey moves over to Hammond B-3 organ, pounds steadily to a purposefully metronomic drum beat that wouldn’t have been out of place at an ’80s dance club.

For the most part though, Songs for Nat is all about smart arrangements of craftily performed original tunes that nod to the Latin side of things. For “Estampas,” Sepúlveda and Ortiz tease melodic rings around one another’s horn, while the set-closing “Liberty” gives conga man Gadwin the opening to let loose that he’s been itching for all along. “Natalia,” the album’s only ballad, meanwhile, allows Dinzey’s piano, Rodriguez’s bass, and Sepúlveda’s resolute, note-perfect trumpet a little breathing room. It’s a welcomed interlude in an otherwise relentlessly hard-hitting procession.

Originally Published