With the release of his dynamics-filled, alternately fiery and sensual/soulful, stylistically eclectic album Woods, Carlos Jimenez marks a prolific 20 years since he began performing at festivals, theatres and other venues in his native NYC and throughout the country.
The veteran flutist, composer and bandleader launched his recording career in 2005 with Arriving, an auspiciously titled collection that featured his good friend, mentor and world renowned pianist, the late Hilton Ruiz, and another New York flutist who was also a onetime instructor, the late great Dave Valentin. After releasing his fourth solo album Goza Nena in 2013, he devoted the next decade to leading the Carlos Jimenez Mambo Dulcet, which released four volumes in a series called Red Tail Hawk.
Though Woods is technically billed as Jimenez’s first solo project in nine years, it’s really a compelling, multi-faceted quartet album whose freewheeling magic speaks to the flutist’s powerful immersion into the Latin Jazz scene and the powerful relationships he has forged with its great artists over the years. While he serves as composer, arranger and producer, his beautiful flute vibes seamlessly throughout with three of the genre’s most storied musicians.
Two-time Grammy nominated keyboardist Hector Martignon – who contributes wildly adventurous harmonies and richly improvisational solos on piano and Fender Rhodes – was a longtime member of Ray Baretto’s ensembles and has toured with Mongo Santamaria, Gato Barbieri, Paquito D’Rivera and Don Byron. Bassist Ruben Rodriguez (who plays both electric and baby bass) has a vast resume that includes Valentin, Baretto, Grover Washington, Jr., Roberta Flack, Tito Puente and Machito, Dave Samuels, Steve Khan and Eddie Palmieri. In addition to the common thread of Baretto, Barbieri and Palmieri, D’Rivera and Samuels, three-time Grammy winning drummer Vince Cherico has also worked with Diane Schuur, Janis Siegel, Phil Woods and Donald Harrison.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Jimenez’s background is that not long after his family relocated from New York to Puerto Rico when he was six, he gravitated first to percussion, playing timbales, bongos and congas. He picked up trumpet in high school and performed with his school’s big band throughout the island. Later, upon hearing the way Mongo Santamaria incorporated the flute into his arrangements, Jimenez switched to his trademark instrument.
Though he leaves the rhythmic foundations and otherworldly drumming and hi-hat improvs to Cherico, every tune on Woods expresses Jimenez’s love for percussion – from the blend of bustling fills and easy blues underpinnings of “Wheelbarrow Blues” to the blazing, funky drum intro to and quick paced buoyant intensity throughout Woods’ jamming, freewheeling centerpiece “Smoketacular.” This track is a ten-minute free for all showcasing the intuitive conversational flow of the quartet, with powerful spotlights on each’s ample improvisational chops.
In discussing the theme to Woods, Jimenez states that the album is about generations of creativity. As one being humbled and respectful to all humankind, he hopes the album will travel all over the world and make people “feel great in their heart mind and souls.” His decision to title the album Woods (after the spirited, mid-tempo old school soul-jazz flavored tune of that title) is steeped in the metaphorical possibilities of comparing natural elements to music. “When I look into the woods,” he says, “I feel amazed. In that peaceful place, there are so many life forms…plants, animals, insects…there is sky, earth, water…also drama and mystery. Writing music is like that. Each composition has its own life. And this collection of songs has so many elements.”
In line with this concept, and Jimenez’s desire to share the many facets of jazz with folks all around the globe, the ten track hour long set taps into a wide variety of jazz-oriented styles. Beyond the aforementioned pieces, there’s the hip, fast-paced swing of the opening track “You’re The Best Pops,” where one of his peppiest flute improvisations gives way to a high octane Martignon piano solo. Jimenez shares the lyrical, romantic side of his artistry on the elegant, charming and truly fun-spirited waltz “Eyes Over Dawn,” then takes us into the funkier neighborhoods of Rio (thanks to the tight pocket created by Rodriguez’s thick, plucky basslines and Cherico’s cool divine madness) to impart some “Dreams of Brazil.”
They bring back the fun, fast swirling tropical samba energy later on “Bamboo Path.” The quartet taps again into their sly, bluesy side on the seductive ballad “Snuggle & Cuddle,” then brings some rain soundscape sounds to introduce the lush, meditational ballad “Not That Far Away.” They close Woods with a bang, following “Smoketacular” with a track so bright, buoyant and danceable you might want to join them “Outside in the Rain.” This last tune is full of surprises. After a fast paced start, they break for a dramatic classical flavored piano interlude before the joy continues on rambunctious solos by Martignon and Jimenez.
The cover of Woods shows a well-dressed Jimenez playing the flute amidst gauzy yellow tinged imagery showing that he’s deep in the woods. The yellow just lurking beyond is the fire of the sun about to manifest in some of the most happening quartet action you’re bound to hear this year.