Trumpeter Tito Carrillo's debut, Opening Statement, is a musically intense record that starts with a bang, with the hard bop "Truth Seeker," a tune that harkens back to 1950s and '60s Blue Note sessions. Carrillo's burnished trumpet is paired with the Geof Bradfield's agile, muscular tenor saxophone creating a classic sound that is enhanced by Dana Hall's propulsive and polyphonic drumming.
Bradfield's ethereal soprano sax with hints of John Coltrane is also heard on "Theophilus," a composition dedicated to Carrillo's late father, and has him stretching out on an advanced, mellifluous improvisation. Carrillo proves to be a skilled improviser, building complex and multi-faceted musical lines with seeming effortlessness. This is best heard on the modal piece "Shades of Morpheus," which introduces pianist Darwin Noguera, whose resonant and ragged sound spiced up with Thelonious Monk and Latin folk music quotes is one of the revelations of this album.
Carrillo's adventurous side also shows up on "3 colors (for RM)," one of the freest and most advanced originals of the disc. Opening with a delightfully atonal cacophony, the quintet launches into a circular group improvisation that is woven around the theme. Pianist Benjamin Lewis's carefully placed series of notes and pauses follow an internal harmonic logic that surprises and thrills with every bar. Tenor saxophonist Phillip Doyle's hard blowing, brassy solo is replete with intriguing screeches and honks that ideally complement the other members of the band.
Carrillo's romantic side is showcased on Carlos Almaran's classic "Historia de un Amor" where his growling edgy trumpet and Noguera's angular piano trade musical embellishments, and on the ballad "Song for Elisa." Here his yearning flugelhorn is paired with the clear flowing lines of Lewis's piano and enhanced by Lorin Cohen strumming a serenade on the bass. If this outstanding CD is Carrillo's opening statement, I can't wait for the full argument.