By Jeff Cebulski
Carlos Vega: Bird's Up
Carlos Vega, saxophones
Victor Garcia, trumpet and flugelhorn
Stu Mindeman, piano, Fender Rhodes
Josh Ramos, bass
Xavier Breaker, drums
Cheryl Wilson, vocal
Scott Hesse, guitar
Steve Strand, flugelhorn
Michael B. Nelson, trombone
Origin Records, 2018
Every region of this country has jazz talent that lacks more national attention, for reasons that may be linked to the general dearth of radio exposure or major label finances. Very gifted musicians with remarkable chops play on in front of appreciative audiences, sometimes releasing an album, hoping but not too-hopeful for a Break. One of these, a quintet, has just released its second album.
Miami-bred, Tallahassee-operating saxophonist Carlos Vega, who earned an advanced degree in Illinois and cut his recording teeth in Chicago, is back with his second offering on Origin, an expansion and continuance of his energetic debut, Bird’s Ticket, that created interest in this educator and his Latin-tinged post bop compositions.
It doesn’t hurt that he recognizes the impetus created by a tight band performance, so Vega returns with the same Chicago-based lineup to carry on as before. Once again, though the recording facility changed, Vega is in production control, so this latest recording, done in 2016, has the same feel and synchronicity as the first. The solos, especially from trumpet stalwart Victor Garcia, are crackling and incisive, riding the beat and pushing forward, even during the ballads.
Perhaps the on-going momentum is partially due to the influence of the Doc Severinen band on Vega, who is a veteran of that ensemble. Nonetheless, his compositions find moments of cacophony that make any listening an attractive proposition.
The title cut clearly represents the “Bird” motif in this regard. Starting with a rumba-infused preface led by rising pianist Stu Mindeman, Vega and Garcia engage in establishing the theme in pure bop mode. Kudo here to drummer Xavier Breaker for riding the line between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, seemingly without breaking a sweat. Bassist Josh Ramos stalwartly maintains a Latin backbeat, allowing Breaker to travel around on his kit with scintillating percussive exclamations. Garcia’s solo is both smooth and chunky, like I prefer my guacamole. Vega follows with a flourish of notes that satisfies but doesn’t overfill, like his contributions to the big band.
A slight diversion from the formula occurs on “Untitled Waltz For The Wednesday Morning Prayer Meeting,” which includes unworded vocal coloring from Cheryl Wilson, of Roosevelt University and appearances with the CSO. Guitarist Scott Hesse, a decade-long participant in Chicago Jazz circles, adds a thoughtful solo on this comparatively graceful offering.
Vega and his mates turn decidedly in a Latin direction on “Los Osos Grandiosos” [The Great Bears], a chance for Ramos to solo within a spirited brass excursion. This is followed by “Morphology of Freedom,” a slightly abstract piece that took me back toward the latter Davis Quintet/pre-fusion time, especially with Mindeman’s electric keyboard and the elliptically lyrical solo from Garcia, who decidedly plays more notes than Miles would imagine.
Vega, for his part, seems clearly willing to let his compositions speak for him, relishing the fellowship of his talented crew. Because his music—and band—is so melodic and tight, it’s easy to give short thrift to the individual art displayed.
But on “Swayed Elements,” with a longer solo, he exhibits his range that includes nods to Bird, Coltrane, Dexter, and others of that generation; it was good to hear him stretch out. And he can play that soprano, too, taking the lead on the bouncy “Curve Ball,” before Mindeman provides an eloquent statement of his own.
And “Reflections of Happy” is a satisfying, endlessly swinging Horace Silver-like ditty that sends Vega into Joe Henderson/Junior Cook mode, where he seems quite at home with Ramos’ incessant blues backbone and Breaker’s wise, restrained pulse.
Even though his compositions reside in recognizable modes, motifs, and sub-genre, there is nothing weak about Carlos Vega’s music. The Florida A&M professor knows who plays it well, is wise enough to travel to follow his muse, and clearly enjoys getting it on tape. We receive the results, and hope for more.
To purchase the recording visit www.originarts.com