Bronx is old school. Its terrain is gritty, real and demanding of your best. It rewards you though. Music history oozes from there. Many of our heroes were either born here or passed through. That mixture of tough, demanding but fierce passion is born out of love for community, for raza (people) and for art.
Pregones is a Spanish for street crier. Whether selling, proclaiming or announcing, the pueblo is filled with the sounds of Pregones. The theater where this performance was recorded is an example of proclaiming, self-realizing. When no one would invest in the South Bronx, the South Bronx invested in itself and a neighborhood theater was born. Tough meets passion, dedication meets hard work and the Bronx rewards the result. Pregones is a testament to neighborhood activism.
Albert Marques is tough but sweet, a Catalan transplant from Spain who created a life for himself in New York, and whose passion at the piano is only matched by his huge humanity and kindness. Walter Stinson is bass. He lives by his instrument and pours his soul into every note he plays. Zack O’Farrill, a gentleman I know quite well, has an encyclopedic knowledge of music, an intellect to match and the virtuosity/creativity at the drums to realize those qualities musically.
The three of them are fierce, tough and passionate, but tempered by love and mad respect for each other. This is the secret to their Art. Music is a demanding discipline, not for the faint hearted, one must be tough with a thick skin, yet flexible and passionate, willing to be vulnerable. All of this is impossible without that greatest of all humilities, love. Put your heart out there, lay your ego aside, and let the greater good shape your art. This is the story of the Bronx, the story of Pregones and the story of the Albert Marques Trio.
Doble Sur (Double South) is not a Spanish style of jump rope. It is a seamless blend of Afro Caribbean, Afro Mediterranean performance practice. It is montuno meets Phrygian in technical language, but for the layman it is rice and beans with manchego and chorizo. This piece is not solo-derived, but rather built on bold strokes of color and rhythm.
This composition, IDN, first made its appearance on their self-released debut recording but makes its presence again here on their ZOHO debut, as if put through fire, the dross burned away and a leaner, meaner version emerges. Walter’s introduction is unrestrained without being indulgent. The trio responds telepathically to the piano solo and it morphs, as the tension builds to the bass and drum improvisation.
These young masters give Iris, the Wayne Shorter composition, a loving treatment. You can hear the reverence and awe they have for Wayne. Again Walter wears his heart on his sleeve for his beautiful bass solo. Albert follows suit giving us a glimpse into a firmly Spanish take on jazz balladry.
Jazz Is Working Class takes on many who would argue that it is the sport of the elite. Before there were expensive buildings to maintain and seasons to program, jazz took place without soft drink sponsors, and was subversive. This composition captures the rebelliousness of an art form that belongs to the pueblo no matter how much plastic you cover it in. The provocation between Albert and Zack that leads to the drum solo is confrontational and illustrates the need for jazz to never abandon its hardscrabble roots.
From left: Walter Stinson, Albert Marques, Zack O'Farrill.
Cançó Pel Pare (Father Song) is beautifully appropriate to Albert who in this piece celebrates the center of his joy, being a young dad to a beautiful baby daughter, Aviva. If you know this about him, you’ve discovered his soul. Being young and a working musician with a new family can be a terrifying reality so this piece has both an edge and a reassurance to it.
Bill Withers is a big hero to a lot of us jazz musicians and one of his masterpieces is Ain’t No Sunshine. It is piece about love that is so real that there is cost involved. Not the fluffy it’s all about “me” love, but the kind that makes demands This is the love that playing instruments is about. It costs, and it involves some measure of sacrifice. Musicians understand this. To love is to give, to hurt, to miss, to fear but most of all to groove.
Walter Stinson’s original, Allen Watts, is a portrait, a miniature. Like so much of Walter’s writing it is definitive and unlike anyone else’s work. There is an introspective quality to Albert’s solo that feels integral to the composition. When you are a musical painter, like Walter, your solos have to reflect the quality of contemplative study.
I don’t know what Zack has A Foggy Conscience about (and maybe I don’t want to know) but I do know that this is exciting compositionally. It’s new but doesn’t feel like a belabored new. It feels like honest and rooted exploration. The dark, brooding quality in this piece has no relation to the nature of the Zack we know. But honesty as a composer is about vulnerability and wearing your explorer badge. I love the fluidity and ESP these three share, as they take the composition out for a walk.
This is not cartoon jazz, or stereotypical Latin Jazz trio. It is modern, fusing elements of Rock, Jazz , Flamenco, R&B with a healthy dose of introspection. Just because I know these guys, I can assure you there isn’t a fake moment in the recording. Every note is played with grit, reality, and love. It seems easy to make records that fit a neat category, affirm one’s identity and serve as musical wallpaper. It is a lot more difficult to go on journeys that demand honesty, a willingness to open up, the ability to withstand grit and funk, and to be real. But boy oh boy, do these young masters reflect the Bronx, Pregones and the pueblos they come from, boy do they reward!
July 2016, Rotterdam, The Netherlands