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  • Jonathan Widran

CHEMBO CORNIEL QUINTET, Músicos y Poetas

As if the densely percussive, searingly explosive swirl of Latin rhythms and hard jamming ensemble weren’t enough to get you to listen thoroughly to all nine tracks of the aptly-titled Artistas, Músicos y Poetas, the Chembo Corniel Quintet’s surreal and bustling Puerto Rican musical “P.R.I.D.E” event, guest poet Felipe Luciano makes it a must with one of his phrases at the start of the freewheeling spoken word driven closing romp “Red Hook Rumba.”

At the start of his New York-Puerto Rican history lesson, he tells us all we need to know about the emotional impact of Corniel, the Grammy nominated percussion master celebrating his 20th anniversary as a bandleader with this epic collection. Luciano praises him with, “You are a warrior brother. . .Every time you slaps the ass of that drum, people feel it across the room.” And boy does Corniel slap throughout this festive adventure, drawing from an arsenal of instruments that should prompt some spirited Googling: tumbadoras, Cajon, Barril de Bomba, Bata (itotele), quinto, shekere, gua gua, clave, guiro and of course, “miscellaneous perussion.”


Considering the ample list of guest stars populating the tracks and striking melodic, harmonic and rhythmic gold in all the key heartfelt and visceral places, the session feels like a grand party hosted by Corniel and his core bandmates Hery Paz (tenor sax, flute), Carlos Cuevas (piano, Fender Rhodes), Ian Stewart (electric bass) and Joel E. Mateo (drums, Bamba cua, clave). The multitude of musical highlights include a spritely, high-energy spin through Monk’s “Evidence” (featuring Cuevas’ otherworldly piano improvisations), the speedy and soulful brass blasts on a colorful arrangement of Eddie Palmieri’s “Pa la Ocha Tambo” and the haunting, hypnotic and ultimately boisterous “Child of Wisdom.”


Since all that’s expected from veteran jazz monsters like this, the moments that your ears will attune to and want more of are the spoken words of Luciano and Ismael East Carlo, whose extended dramatic intro to “P.R.I.D.E” drive the thematic theme of the collection home. Another standout spoken word moment comes at the very start. As Chembo starts slapping some serious percussive ass, the late Eliado “Don Pancho” Terry adds his shekere magic and introduces our guest of honor with, “Chembo! Felicidades Mi Hermano!” Sometimes liner notes overhype artists and their projects, but when Jose C. Masso III of WBUR 90.9FM (Boston’s NPR Station) calls it a “Magnum Opus,” he’s either spot on or severely understating things!

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