Bassist Marcos Varela, Houston-bred and now New York-based, opens his recording debut, San Ygnacio, with a big, brash version of the standard, "I Should Care." His rhythm section is rounded out by veteran pianist George Cables and drum icon Billy Hart, so a free swinging zest is expected, and delivered. Logan Richardson on alto sax makes it a quartet, with tart tone and stretched notes that bring the legendary alto saxophonist Jackie McLean to mind. It's a bold anthem of an introduction, and it may be here for Varela to prove - on his first recording - that he can put together a band and lay down a standard with the best of them. He succeeds marvelously.
Varela traces his American roots to a time back before America existed as a country, back to the day of the Spanish land grants. The disc's title refers to the town of his family's 1750's land grant. "Santa Colinas De Santa Maria" is the name of the familial rancho, and the title to the Valera-penned second tune of the set, and - given that the inspiration of the music is more than two and a half centuries old - it is remarkably modern-sounding, bubbling with magic and mystery. Varela does a bit of a mixing of the line-ups here, and "Colinas..." features a quartet - alto sax and a rhythm section - heard on only two numbers. It's group capable of the subtlest intricacies, an ensemble able to stroll "out there" while maintaining the leader's focused vision.
Trombonist Clifton Anderson - saxophonist Sonny Rollins' trombonist of choice - sits in on two of his own original compositions, "Misuru" and "Sister Gemini," injecting the set with a vibrant mainstream feeling, and pianist George Cables, of the core quartet, brings in one of his tunes, the lovely, pensive "Looking For The Light," while leader Varela contributes "Where The Wild Things Are," begins with a spooky three minute intro that shifts into a propulsive, prickly piece of modern jazz.
San Ygnacio is a rare mixed bag disc that works exceedingly well. Everybody shines - Billy Hart and George Cables, trombonist Anderson and also the younger crew, as well as Marcos Varela and his sharply-honed vision for the sounds he has molded.