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Carlos Henriquez Radiates Gratitude in a South Bronx Homecoming

photo: Tina Fineberg for The New York Times

Nearly every note from Carlos Henriquez, the bassist for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, is cool, clear, judicious, full of body and intent. His sound doesn’t grasp or rush; informed by the economy of Afro-Latin tumbao bass patterns, it connects and assists. It has its moral priorities straight.

The next step is persona, composition, big ideas, the who-are-you and where-are-you-going of music, and Jazz at Lincoln Center is helping him with that. On Saturday night he was the center of “Carlos Henriquez: Back in the Bronx,” a concert at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts. This week his first album, “The Bronx Pyramid,” will be released by Blue Engine, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s new record label.

Jazz at Lincoln Center and its director, Wynton Marsalis, have been careful and serious about presenting the confluence of jazz and Afro-Latin music: breaking it down into isolated parts, expanding it, analyzing the hundred-year relationship. Mr. Henriquez, who grew up in the South Bronx, has been central to those efforts since the late 1990s, when he joined the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as a teenager. He had already played with Eddie Palmieri, and by the age of 20 he had appeared on two of the great recent records synthesizing jazz and Afro-Latin music, Danilo Perez’s “Motherland” and Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s “Supernova.” Maybe by now he can afford to grandstand. He doesn’t. He waits for his moment, then delivers with concision. Some of Saturday’s performance felt stolid, or just subtle; it all seemed true to Mr. Henriquez’s personality.

The concert was the opener of an unusual season for Jazz at Lincoln Center. The public spaces in its home-base theater complex at Columbus Circle are under construction, so its bigger concerts are being held elsewhere for several months. Having Mr. Henriquez’s breakout moment at Lehman, in the Kingsbridge Heights neighborhood of the Bronx, was a good idea, for both hometown-hero and community-outreach reasons. (Jazz at Lincoln Center chartered a bus from Columbus Circle to the Bronx for its subscribers, but this was a local crowd, too. The organization estimated that half the audience members were first-time attendees of a Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra concert.)

What Mr. Henriquez did with the opportunity was essentially to show gratitude. He showed it toward the band. He showed it toward his teachers and elders, including the singer Frankie Vázquez, an alert, elegant, direct presence who joined the band for about half the show. (“He makes you feel like you’re grounded, and you’re from earth,” Mr. Henriquez remarked of Mr. Vázquez’s singing.) He showed it toward Afro-Latin musical traditions through his own work and in songs he chose to cover, including Cortijo y su Combo’s “Quitate de la Via Perico” and “Ban Ban Quere,” made famous by Ray Barretto. And he showed it toward his family, in pieces written for each of his three children.

The band — 18 members on Saturday, including the percussionists Bobby Allende, Carlos Padron and Marc Quiñones — is a tight ship. Pushed to the front, Mr. Henriquez makes it tighter. Saturday’s arrangements all had a sense of proportion, with regular switching-off between Afro-Latin clave rhythm and jazz swing, chord voicings spread across brass and woodwind sections, and short solo sections. A few of those solos took off — a voluminous one by the trombonist Elliot Mason, and a powerfully organized one by the timbalero Mr. Quiñones — but often they seemed like extensions of Mr. Henriquez’s larger project: managing a grand confluence, keeping equilibrium.

The concert’s last song was Mr. Henriquez’s “Descarga Entre Amigos,” a jam-session track from “The Bronx Pyramid,” and here, finally, Mr. Henriquez seized his moment in a solo. It was short, but strong and present; it rearranged the flow of time a little bit.

by Ben Ratliff
Source: New York Times

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