Bassist Oskar Cartaya’s first release as a leader is an all-out throw-down that deserves to send the bassist into wider popular recognition with audiences in the jazz and Latin jazz movements. Right from the hot first entrance of his bass on the opening track, El Yunque, Cartaya proves he can lead a hot, tightly interwoven ensemble with the feel of his bass laying down the foundation and taking the lead at the same time - tricky stuff to say the least. Cartaya’s playing and compositions, he wrote 12 of the 13 tunes on the recording, show a passion for making music that is not only danceable and fun but also plays to the highest levels of musicianship.
This American born, Puerto Rican raised musician studied at the Escuela Libre de Musica in Puerto Rico and the Musicians Institute of Technology in Los Angeles, where he also later taught. His work includes a number of years as the bassist in Spyro Gyra, close work with Herb Alpert on his critically praised Passion Dance CD, and a veritable Who’s Who in the Latin music world including Pete Escovedo, Humberto Ramírez, Milton Davila, Pedro Eustache, Tito Nieves, as well as others outside of that movement including Brenda K. Starr and Joe Sample.
It’s this experience and Cartaya’s years of work with others that makes this, his freshman recording, sound like anything but a freshman recording. The sound is highly polished, his playing is effortless and masterful at the same time and the compositions are all tightly constructed yet leave lots of space for some great soloing. Just sample Cartaya’s interplay with saxophonist Kirk Whalum on the chill-down Lamento as just one of many great examples throughout the disc.
Leading an all-star rotating assemblage of musicians that includes, in addition to Whalum, Marc Quinones on timbales and percussion, Sheila E. on drums and percussion, Alex Acuna on drums and percussion, Claudia Acuna on vocals, Dave Valentin on flute, Giovanni Hidalgo on congas, Eddie Palmieri on piano, and trumpeter Humberto Ramirez, to name just a few, the overall statement is one of support and not one-ups-manship so common in lesser all-star recordings.
Those looking for a well-rounded effort will be totally pleased with this disc. In addition to the Latin numbers there is also a great fusion workout in O-Town, a too-hip up-tempo funk ala Tower Of Power piece entitled Spy Song, a piece that would have fit well on the rock group Chicago’s 8th album entitled Pa’ Que Aprenda, and a lovely samba-esque ballad, Comecar De Novo. If you’re a lover of great music this disc will not disappoint. The problems with some musicians being left off of some of the track listings, who’s playing trombone on Taino Groove for example, is minor compared to the great music contained within.