Now he has released Live at the Blue Bamboo and the results are exciting, encouraging, fascinating, and wonderfully warm and lovely. From funky to swinging, this album is Jazz with a twist.
Of the nine tracks on the album, Cortez composes six of them. With Cortez on guitar are Bob Thornton on piano, Ron Jenkins and Doug Matthews on bass, Joel Rosenblatt and Jeff Sipe on drums, Jeff Rupert on tenor sax, John DePaola on trumpet, and Dan Jordan on flute. Extraordinary musicians for wonderful music.
The three covers are The Visit with its fine tribute to Pat Martino. Thornton, Cortez, and Sipe all get solos that are memorable and touching. That’s the Way of the World is a fun and grooving adaptation of Earth, Wind and Fire’s great hit. Thornton, Jordan, and Cortez take the leads and they are excellent. Cortez seriously plays like a man carving his own space in the musical world. The album is wrapped up by the final cover, Joe Zawinul’s excellent A Remark You Made. It is a solo ballad that is touching and melancholy, dedicated to those we lost during the pandemic.
As excellent as the covers are, it is Cortez’ original compositions that grab you the most. It starts with Arlington Park and a fine drum intro by Joel Rosenblatt. The Latin piano styling is wonderful and the horns put forth extraordinary passages. This is in the pocket and the band gets all the attention they deserve.
Awakenings is a broad approach from a compositional level and the addition of Dan Jordan’s flute adds a soaring element that is delightful. I swore I heard a drop-in from George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun and it is a fine contribution to the range of the piece. Different Strokes is a tightly swinging number that offers solos from Thornton, DePaola, and Rosenblatt. I must admit Bob Thornton stole my attention with his fine piano artistry. Of the experience, Thorton says, “It was a joy and a privilege to be involved in this project with such an amazing group of musicians. Recording in front of a live audience, with little or no rehearsal for many of the tunes, resulted in some exciting and unexpected moments!” Aarrgh is what I sound like getting up from my desk. It is a cool little andante funk number with a sweet groove. Piano and muted trumpet lay over the groove but it is Cortez and Rupert who take away the fine solos. Funky, funky, funky.
Melody Makes It Happen is dedicated to Cortez’ wife, Melody. It is the longest piece on the album played as a Blues ballad that is warm and emotional with a languid tenor sax solo from Rupert. This is a well-constructed song, performed impeccably. This may be my favorite track on the album.
The penultimate track is The Rose of Shalamar, a Latin-style song that plays with time signatures and offers a catchy ostinato that stays in your head. Cortez, Matthews, and Sipe take the solos.
Chris Cortez says, “The Great American Songbook is an amazing body of work, and everyone studies that material with great respect. I am no exception. If this art form is to move forward though, it will need new songs. Sadly, the craft of songwriting seems to have gone out of style for the moment. People write forgettable, throw-away “heads” not “songs,” with the goal of getting to the improvisation as quickly as possible. I am still hooked on melodies that stick in your brain, and I’m obsessed with trying to create and develop improvisations that are connected to them.”
He proves just that. Every tune is memorable indeed.
Chris Cortez’ Live at the Blue Bamboo is a brilliant excursion into magnificent songwriting and top tier performing artistry. From the hot charts to the coolest possible improvisations, this live performance is exactly what we hoped to hear.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl