Review by Brad Walseth
Placing the nylon string guitar in front of an Afro-Cuban trio is one revolutionary element of this excellent new release. Guitar is not usually used in this manner in the Afro-Cuban genre, as it is usually given a rhythmic supporting role, if at all. Combining classic North American Jazz songs with the Latin rhythms has perhaps been done a bit more, especially as late, as the Latin influence has surged in recent times, but Askren's mingling of straight ahead guitar styles in the vein of Wes Montgomery and Grant Green into the Latin guitar mode is especially inventive and pleasing.
Much of the credit for the success of this album must be given to the wonderful musicians backing Askren in the Trio Nuevo: bassist Eddie Resto and drummer & percussionist Walter Rodriguez, supplemented by drummer Ramon Banda on three tracks. All three are veteran musicians who have played with many of the top names in Latin Jazz like Dizzy Gillespie, Mongo Santamaria, Eddie and Charlie Palamieri, Tito Puente, Arturo Sandoval, Ray Baretto, Herb Alpert and Strunz & Farah, as well as more straight ahead artists like Freddie Hubbard, Terence Blanchard, Max Roach and Sonny Stitt. These first rate musicians are authentic and skilled in the nuances of this challenging music and provide an exceptional foundation for Askren's lyrical lines.
Askern himself is a former Berklee grad and instructor, relocated to the Losa Angeles area, who has played with artists like Bob Moses, Delfeayo Marsalis, Bobby Shew, Kevin Eubanks and a host of commercial recording artists. His playing here will delight fans both of straight ahead jazz as well as its Latin counterpart. Song choices range from Coltrane's "Naima," Monk's "Epistrophy," Wayne Shorter's "Yes or No," Joe Henderson's "Recordame," and Mingus' "Peggy's Blue Skylight," as well as standards "But Beautiful" and "We'll Be Together Again." The twist is these numbers are played as mambos, boleros, cha-chas and with Afro-Cuban and other Latin grooves. It is shocking, yet satisfying to hear Rodriguez on the Peruvian cajon on the Monk tune, and Shorter as a mambo and Mingus as a bolero are both delights. It is clear that the experiment works quite well.
Askren bookends this release with two originals that cry out for the guitarist to write more. The skittering McCoy Tyner tribute "Tiene Tyner" is at 2:53 leaves one wanting more, while "P.M." is a tasty laid back groove and a nice ending to an enjoyable listening experience. Throughout the recording, all the musicians shine. Resto is a absolute blast on the bass and a perfect foil for Askren. Rodriguez shows a wide range of talent across the percussion and drum kits, while Banda's skillful drumming seems to kick things even higher on tunes like "Naima." Askren dances across his strings with both power and grace, straddling the line between straight ahead jazz and Latin fearlessly. Intelligent, creative and masterful, "Trio Nuevo+" is highly recommended.