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Is It Live or Is It Studio Tape-Splicing?


August 18, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

Jerry González and the Fort Apache band are the beneficiaries of 1980's New York, when jazz and Latin music were conscientiously and empirically connected every week at the old Village Gate. The Monday night "Salsa Meets Jazz" series there, which ended in 1993, was an effective bit of modern thinking; it promoted and hastened a cross-fertilization, booking jazz improvisers to sit in with Latin bands, instead of leaving musical evolution to the slow vagaries of chance. And in its wake, New Yorkers had a better understanding of the fact that jazz and Latin music would be together for the long haul.

The Fort Apache band has existed in various incarnations since the early 80's. But in its present form, a quintet whose lineup has stayed intact for over a decade, the mission is clear: creating multipart pieces that jostle jazz and Latin idioms.

Mr. González, the trumpeter and conguero who leads the band, has been living in Puerto Rico and Spain recently (working with a flamenco band, among other things), and the band's New York appearances have become rare. But on Tuesday night at Iridium, its musical juxtapositions were sharp, hard and as jolting as they could be while still organically made. If you heard it with eyes closed, you could almost imagine the music as the product of studio tape- splicing.

In "Eighty-One," a fractured blues by Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter, the band used the tune's prematurely cropped eight-bar melody and built on the dislocating feeling that it provided, constantly pulling the rug out from under its own arrangements. Mr. González's fluegelhorn solo was followed by a break where the rhythm section dropped out nearly entirely; Joe Ford, on alto saxophone, came back in with the band and quickly established a new, minor mood.

With a sudden shift to congas, Mr. González instigated a new rhythm, creating counterpoint with the drummer Steve Berrios, while Mr. Ford continued unabated in a long, rapid- note solo, reaching the extreme registers. The clave became mightier and more open, as the two percussionists put breathing space into their patterns. Andy González, the bassist, played a streamlined, minimal solo against little backdrop. And then the drums returned, crashing down with a fast clave, while the pianist Larry Willis tolled behind- the-beat chords as more percussion. It was one excitement after another.

The band, which plays at the club (1650 Broadway at 51st Street) through Sunday night, played two Thelonious Monk tunes, a Cuban song ("Siempre Junto a Tí") and a famous Puerto Rican bolero (Pedro Flores's "Obsesión"), but the provenance or original form of the pieces mattered little. They were all to be emptied out and reshuffled, infused with these new bilevel structures; and the dynamics of every song were entirely the band's own.

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