ACÚSTICO / N. NEGRONI: Let’s Go Camping. Monica’s Drums. J.R. NEGRONI: AIR. I Remember You. Puerta Del Sol. No Me Voy De Aquí. Cantando. Cycles. N. MORALES: Maria Cervantes. FRAGOS-BAKER-GASPARRE: I Hear a Rhapsody. POWELL: Tempus Fugit / José Ramón Negroni, pno; Josh Allen, bs; Nomar Negroni, dm / Sony Music/Latin 9075994202
Drummer and trio leader Nomar Negroni was born in Puerto Rico in 1981, but he and his family moved to Miami in 1995. After studying at Berklee he and his father, pianist José Ramon Negroni, formed their jazz trio in 2002. Nomar has also recorded with Arturo Sandoval, Ed Calle, Dave Valentin, Sammy Figueroa and Nestor Torres among others.
From the very opening number, an original by Nomar (I will use first names instead of last to distinguish between the two Negronis) titled Let’s Go Camping, it’s obvious that he is a drummer with power, but this composition isn’t just about slamming the drums. At about the one-minute mark the tempo relaxes and the beat becomes more diffuse as his father José plays some very interesting piano improvisations. The music then alternates back and forth between these two moods and tempi. Nomar’s drum playing is explosive and he has a good beat, though he is not the most spectacular technician around today. José’s AIR has a Latin rhythm to it but, once again, there are subtle tempo shifts, some of them quite complex. For the most part, bassist Josh Allen is a feelable pulse in the background, but on this number he, too, plays a very fine solo. (I couldn’t find nearly as much about José Negroni online as I did about Nomar; he’s either very shy or more than willing to let his son have the spotlight.)
Indeed, as the album progressed it was José who caught my attention most often, although I’m sure that he and his son have worked out much of these pieces and the exchange between them, which is all to the music’s advantage. Much of José’s playing and compositions use interesting devices such as circular chromatics (but not in the dead-end style used by John Coltrane), bitonality, whole tone scales and modes, all woven into a fabric in which one must listen very carefully to catch all of the subtleties. On Puerto Del Sol, José begins by playing the strings inside the piano, and it sounds as if Allen is bowing his bass very softly in the upper range of his strings. Mood and color are an important part of this trio’s function as a musical unit. For all of Nomar’s great power, he too plays very softly and subtly on this number. José tends to favor single-note lines in the right hand while feeding himself chords, sometimes just little tonal punctuations, with the left in the manner of many Latin jazz pianists, but I don’t mean to pigeonhole him by saying that. His improvisations and style are wholly original.
Noro Morales’ Maria Cervantes is quite lyrical, mostly solo piano and opening with soft, romantic chords alternating with double and quadruple-time single-note runs. This one has a very attractive theme and chord progression that finally reveals itself at the 1:35 mark. The bass and drums enter around 2:30, but don’t stay long. No Me Voy De Aquí is an old-fashioned sort of Latin jazz piece that reminded me a bit of Tito Puente. Allen has another excellent bass solo on this one, too, as someone (Nomar?) does wordless but rhythmical vocalizations in the background.
Cantando is another lyrical piece, either a waltz or a slow 6/8 rhythm, although with alterations in the middle section that keeps the listener on his or her toes. The middle section switches, however, to a sort of 6/8 march with a loping beat—more musical tricks for the ear to catch up on. Cycles by José Negroni is a clever re-working of Beethoven’s Für Elise using a similar opening lick but shifting the rhythm (and a few notes) around in the melody line. As it goes on, however, the musical material tends to move away from Beethoven and more into the world of salsa, complete with wordless singing by Josh and Nomar behind José’s playing.
The next two numbers are intriguing because they are reworkings of older pieces: the well-known 1941 song I hear a Rhapsody, completely rewritten in the first chorus especially by José, and Bud Powell’s Tempus Fugit. Both are played as if they were contemporary compositions. The latter, in particular, really cooks and is infused with a strong beat that pushes it forward while José works the front end (on piano) and Allen the back end (on bass) with Nomar chugging along on his Pearl drum set.
The wrap-up to this wonderful set is Monica’s Drums by Nomar, but without liner notes (this CD has none, just a track listing) I have no idea who Monica is and why this represents her drums. But it’s a good, long, extended solo workout for Nomar, who plays the whole thing himself.
An excellent album, creative and interesting from first to last.
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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