Review by Brad Walseth, Photos by John Broughton, Copyright 2010
Hooray for CALJE - the Chicago Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble founded four years ago by pianist Darwin Noguera and trumpeter Victor Garcia. Blueprints - their new release on Nick Eipers' Chicago Sessions label is a true knockout - leaping out of the speakers immediately on the first track,"Send Eggs." This hard-charging number features a swirling horn arrangement and relentless rhythm section (including special guest master conguero Paoli Mejias ) that will have even the most the blundering listener on their feet and dancing to this infectious opening track - written by Miami-based saxophonist Juan Turros - who also provides some fiery sax licks. One of the CALJE's most popular numbers - the Noguera penned/ Garcia/Noguera-arranged "Milesmiles" follows and clearly shows the maturity and breadth of Noguera's writing. This satisfying track is a perfect example of the ability of the band to merge heart and mind in a track that features seductive rhythms and interesting and susprising changes, with the great ensemble work and solos captured brilliantly by Eipers and his crew.
Along with the aforementioned "Milesmiles," one of my favorite CALJE compositions is Victor Garcia's percussive "Captain Spok" (also arranged by both leaders of the group) with it's layered and staggered horns. To top off matters, special guest Steve Turre adds some spicy trombone to the mix, while Noguera's piano (a highlight throughout) sparkles. If you are not familiar with them, the band itself includes such stellar players as reedmen Steve Eisen, Greg Ward and Rocky Yera, bassist Josh Ramos, drummers Ernie Adams and Juan Daniel Pastor, trumpeters Tito Carillo, Roger Ingram, Freddie Rodriguez (and Garcia, of course), trombonists John Mose and Craig Sunken, timbale player Juan Picorelli and conguero Victor Gonzales Jr. I take the time to list them all because they are all deserving of notice for their exceptional work. Garcia and Noguera deserve kudos for keeping this band mostly intact - and this sense of comraderie and experience playing together comes through on the recording.
Talented singer Ricky Luis appears next on "Vuelvo a Vivir" - a delightful, reggae-flavored change of pace that fits nicely here. Guitarist Neal Alger makes a nice guest apearance here as well, providing some appropriately squiggly guitar. Meanwhile, the title track (cowritten by Noguera and Garcia) features Turre on shells and Mejias on congas on a delicious, ever-shifting composition that builds around the sounds of the percussion instruments. "Bossa Pegajosa" is shimmering song from Turros that shines like the sunshine on the water at Miami Beach, while the contrapuntal "Tierra" comes from the pen of Colombian Pablo Mayor (Folklore Urbano) and features some nice clarinet from guest Rich Moore. Nythia Martinez sings on Garcia's lushly romantic, yet hauntingly bittersweet "Timeless," (with chewy electric bass solo by Ramos) that shows Garcia and the band ready and willing to overcome travails and move on bravely into the future.
A blueprint for future success, and truly a triumph for Noguera and Garcia and all the members of Chicago's world class Afro-Latin ensemble, as well as Nick Eipers' excellent Chicago Sessions label, "Blueprints" is a must have recording for your collection.