If you were a young bassist-composer releasing your album debut as a leader, you'd want Ron Carter writing your liner notes.
Such was the case for Marcos Varela, whose San Ygnacio unites eight of the finest musicians in New York for an admirable 11-track program. Varela is keenly aware of the significance and influence of Carter, but the young bassist should certainly be commended for the smart choices he makes on this CD.
It begins with the personnel. In addition to veterans like pianist George Cables, drummer Billy Hart and trombonist Clifton Anderson (the latter a longtime sideman with Sonny Rollins), Varela, a Houston-born New Yorker, had the creative ambition and industry wherewithal to bring aboard such peers as Logan Richardson on alto saxophone, Dayna Stephens on tenor saxophone, Arnold Lee on soprano and alto, Eden Ladin on piano and Kush Abadey on drums.
The different generations mesh nicely on this recording, which includes 10 originals and one standard. "I Should Care," the opener, is covered brilliantly, serving as validation of Varela's traditional jazz chops.
What emerges from all of Varela's genre blending and generational merging? A varied yet listenable album, with styles ranging from dreamy lullaby to uptempo bop, romantic ballad to r&b-flavored funk.
Some takeaways are obvious. First, Varela can play: He produces a clear tone, his phrasing is sensitive and tasteful and his solos are free of cliché. This young man's future looks bright.
Trombonist Anderson is in similarly fine form. However, it's pianist Cables who elevates everything about this album. He plays brilliantly, no matter the tune.