I don’t usually cover the same band twice in a row, but this is an unusual circumstance. The circumstance is that I reviewed Agua Dulce Ensamble’s new album ,LIVE, last week, and this week they played in my town with a friend of mine guesting on his sax. I could not resist.
The concert was at the La Cochera Cultural, a flexible venue that also serves as an art center, education center, and venue for music and dance. Because of the threat of rain (which did not materialize) the band was in a covered area, with some of the the audience seated outside looking into the covered area, which is brick and has great acoustics.
Agua Dulce is one of Mexico’s premier jazz groups. Four musicians – Chen Quintero on guitar, Juan Manuel Ayala on bass, Guillermo Núñez on drums, and Cuervo Gonzales on keyboard. They invited Eleazar “Chuco” Soto, one of the Mexico’s top sax players to join them. Chuco is also the music director at La Cochera Cultural and leader of the local jazz group Trialogo.
The combination of Chuco’s sax and the group’s polished jazz was heavenly…and brilliant. Everyone who was not videoing them on their cellphone was sitting with their eyes closed.
Each one of the musicians is a star in his own right, and each one of them was perfectly in sync with the others. The band is composed of winners, but no prima donnas. They work together like a well-oiled and very intelligent machine. The sheen of the machine is Chen Quintero’s custom-made guitar, Quintero caressed the strings and evoked notes ss clear as glass and sharp as diamonds – or as soft and gentle as fog drifting through forest. Or even down real low like a bass harmonica.
Cuervo Gonzales tracked the guitar perfectly on the keyboard, filling in the spaces between notes at times, echoing them at other times, and sometimes taking the foreground with a solo that soared as Gonzalez grinned while he moves across the Yamaha 88.
Juan Manuel Ayala created a curtain of bass notes. Because of the wide-ranging drum adventures of Guillermo Núñez, Ayala often kept the beat. Everyone onstage and off unconsciously tapped their feet to Ayala’s fingers. But he kept the beat almost invisibly most of the time. And he would solo and everyone woke up and said “wow!” as his fingers flew and his mouth talked the notes. Most bass players (except for metal bands) are in the shadow, out of the stage lights, just strumming away. Not Gonzales; although always part of the team, he was anything but invisible, supporting the entire band with smooth rhythm and solos. And unlike most bassists, he was not afraid to step out and introduce songs and talk to the fans.
And then there was Guillermo Núñez on the drums. One of the best drummers I have encountered in jazz or any other genre. Precise, accurate, controlled – and totally wild. He is so good that he can do anything; and he experimented with it on the fly and it worked. I lost count of the techniques he brought forward, the combos and the innovations that seemed like he was “just doin’ his thing”. The effect was electrifying when he wanted it to be, and invisible when the music called for it. Many jazz drummers keep up counter beats and mixed tempos against the melodies; Núñez did that with a feather-like finesse. But he also stepped forward to call and answer with Quintero’s guitar or Gonzalez’s keyboard. And then he would take off –carrying the band in a new, direction and a new energy.
Chuco Soto stepped easily into this tranquil musical maelstrom sometimes following, sometimes leading, always adding a rich color, like the northern lights. Whether he was wailing or accenting, Chucko’s sax flowed, and brought a new dimension to the music, a color that was his own and yet the band’s at the same time. I would say they should keep him, but we want him to stay here.
The concert wrapped up with a standing ovation and a band as happy as the audience.
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