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Jerry González & Miguel Blanco Big Band: A Tribute to Fort Apache Band

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Trumpeter-percussionist Jerry González’s Fort Apache Band is certainly not the first to graft elements of bebop, postbop and straight-ahead swing onto an Afro-Cuban framework. But its relatively sparse voicings and the dexterity and subtlety of its soloists have helped liberate the music from the brassy “Latin fire” clichés that still often characterize such projects. The Apaches limn aural landscapes in which space itself takes on an almost physical presence-one that both envelopes the music and opens up opportunities for discovery.

This tribute, consisting of eight Fort Apache favorites reimagined by arranger Miguel Blanco, honors the ensemble’s aesthetic eloquently. A piece like “Earthdance” could serve as a statement of purpose: Less a “fusion” than a celebration of both individual and collective identity, it melds diverse cultural elements to create new textures, yet each of its cultural aspects remains distinct. On “Let’s Call This,” a lesser-known Monk gem (the set also includes a reprise of the Apaches’ 1989 take on Monk’s “Ugly Beauty”), pianist Albert Sanz invokes but does not mimic the master, and Luis Verde’s alto sax solo echoes Johnny Griffin. (Which is to say his lines are quick and dexterous yet impeccably thought-out.) And don’t miss the impish insertion of Monk’s legendary “I’m famous-ain’t that a bitch?,” from the documentary Straight, No Chaser.

A take of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” a tune González, the band’s founder and leader, hadn’t recorded until now, could also serve as a manifesto. González and Blanco’s Latinization of Shorter’s theme is subtle but transformative, and again there’s the sense that the musicians are working in a space that provides unlimited room as well as a reassuring sense of constancy.

Originally Published