In a strange way, the best thing about Diego Rivera’s third album, Connections, is the extent to which we don’t hear him. Not that there’s anything lacking in what he does, as his playing is carefully phrased and beautifully nuanced, with a vocalist’s sense of melodic line. On the occasions when his tenor takes the lead, it speaks with persuasive confidence, bringing a wealth of sentiment to the jazz waltz “Mother’s Nature.”
But Rivera doesn’t often take the lead, preferring instead to submerge his sound in the ensemble, and that definitely works to the album’s advantage. For one thing, a hard bop tune like “Connections” builds a better head of steam through its harmonized, three-horn exposition, ensuring that Rivera’s tuneful tenor solo practically explodes out of the head. Likewise, the intertwined voices on McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance” supercharge the groove, while the Coltrane chestnut “Naima” is expanded into a mini-big-band chart, with a lightly Latin treatment that makes its familiar refrain feel refreshingly new.