Venezuelan trumpeter Raul Agraz has released his debut album as a leader. "Between Brothers" (OA2 Records OA2 22127) is a fantastic and dynamic treat that features some of the best of the best - the real brothers of the music.
Special guests include the legendary Paquito D'Rivera, Dave Samuels, Luis Perdomo, Luis Quintero and Dan Willis. The band also includes some of my very favorite artists like bassist Ruben Rodriguez, Ivan Renta on tenor sax, percussionist Luis Quintero, drummer Anderson Quintero and many more. It is a band to set your soul on fire. And they do.
The album's inaugural piece is Pedro Flores' "Obsesión." The piece was arranged by trombonist Mark Miller. It opens with fierce percussion and the horns and rhythm section soon come aboard. Raul Agraz and Ivan Renta are the featured soloists. Luis Perdomo keeps the rhythm section going as Renta turns in a brilliant tenor sax solo. I first heard Ivan Renta on Chembo Corniel's "Afro Blue Monk" where he won me over once and for ever. Renta's work here with Agraz is no less exhilarating.
Agraz' blistering trumpet solo is supported brilliantly by the horns of Javi Olivencia, Mark Miller, Luis Bonilla and Randy Andos. The rhythm section of Perdomo, Ruben Rodriguez, Cliff Almond, Luis Quintero and Robert Quintero are fine and furious.
"Between Brothers" has the great groove set before the melody is even discernable. The Luis "Papo" Martinez composition is a sweet work for the featured artists Dave Samuels, Paquito D'Rivera, Rodner Padilla, Anderson Quintero and Raul Agraz.
The muted trumpet of Agraz is a great set-up for the clarinet of Paquito. No one thrills like D'Rivera who can swing and invigorate and charm all at once. The vibes work wondrously with Agraz and D'Rivera. This was a favorite.
"BossAgraz" is composed by Raul Agraz. It is beautifully written and arranged and is a great showcase for Agraz on flugelhorn. Dan Willis solos on soprano sax and turns in a work of true beauty. As always, the rhythm section creates the great excitement that the melodies are built upon. It is no mystery why Agraz is a Venezuelan national treasure. His work on flugelhorn is something immensely enjoyable. His tone is gorgeous. The bossa feel is always loved and Agraz works the magic well.
"A Song for You" is Raul's song for his wife. Jon Werking takes piano duties in support of Agraz's excellent trumpet. The string section adds a depth and a warmth to the lovely piece that sings of love and sweet affection. Werking's piano is a fine partner for Raul's trumpet, as the strings provide the lilt and swirl.
Sean McDaniel's "FDB" follows with the gorgeous saxes (alto, tenor and baritone) and the featured solos of Jake Ezra on guitar and Raul Agraz's muted trumpet. Raul works in exquisite trumpet runs and riffs that are quick and cool. Ezra creates beautiful lines with his guitar solo. The whole horn section swiftly shifts from languid to lively and simply opens wide doors of expression. The opening and closing segments are sharp.
Agraz's original "In a Sentimental Day" contains some of Agraz's most lush and lyrical playing on flugelhorn with Werking again on piano. The string section returns in beautiful waves with Dave Phillips on bass and Sean McDaniels on drums. Werking's solo is touching with a hint of blues against the gorgeous tonality and phrasing of Agraz.
This is followed by another Agraz original, "One Day at a Time." This time it is Luis Perdomo on piano with the up-tempo rhythms expressed so well by Ruben Rodriguez (bass) and Cliff Almond (drums) along with Luis Quintero and Robert Quintero on percussion. The whole horn group is in play and it works well. Perdomo offers a fine solo in anticipation of the excellent Agraz trumpet solo. Agraz does not disappoint. He is virtuosic and vibrant, sweet and sweeping, and completely satisfying. Plus, the composition is something remarkable. Gorgeous.
"Sentimiento de Canción" is composed by the great Oscar Hernandez and arranged by Ricky Gonzalez. It is hot and robust and Agraz makes it his own. He is the only soloist and he flies with it by himself. Javi Olivencia and Renta work the saxophones as Oscar Cartaya creates a pulsing and pounding bass wsith Cliff Almond back at the drums. Smoking.
"Beautiful Diana" is a John Walsh piece. It is an elegy to beauty personified. The swing of the movement is augmented by the drive of the rhythm section. Axel Laugart's piano solo is dancing and bright. Luis Quintero on timbal works the rhythm like a madman. Agraz again is on flugelhorn and he speaks volumes in adoration. It is so well-done and well-stated. It is a thing of true beauty.
The album concludes with "Concone" by Giuseppe Concone, arranged by John Walsh. It is a lovely duet Raul Agraz on flugelhorn and pianist Axel Laugart. It is a fine example of the tone quality and texture of Agraz.
"Between Brothers"is well-described by the title. Raul Agraz has gathered his musical brothers together and together they speak of the friendship and fellowship of artistry. The energy is high and the performance is exemplary. It is carried on rivers of fire by the smoking Latin rhythms and beautiful melodies. It is what we love most—to not only hear the music, but to feel it inside. And Raul Agraz makes us feel it.