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Few jazz pianists arriving on the scene since the 1960s have been able to sidestep the musical influence of the late McCoy Tyner. Benito Gonzalez is no exception. Gonzalez absolutely reveres Tyner, especially the elder’s chromatic-based, two-fisted pentatonic techniques. Gonzalez’s uptempo modal compositions — constituting nearly half of Sing to the World (Gonzalez’s fifth release) — call to mind Tyner’s energized forays while still a member of Coltrane’s renowned quartet.
Gonzalez’s amped-up music is similarly dense yet openly in search of a musical message to explain the most basic human conditions. His opening “Sounds of Freedom,” a blistering piece alternating 4/4 and 5/4 meters, features trumpeter Nicholas Payton, bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Sasha Mashin frenetically testifying to heartbreaking crises all peoples endure, particularly in Gonzalez’s native Venezuela.
If ever a rhythm section can be labeled a “power trio,” it is that of Gonzalez, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, who are featured on four of 10 cuts. Their approaches to Coltrane-esque compositions “Views of the Blues” and “Visionary” come busting out of the gates swinging hard and fast, spinning freewheeling improvisations at breakneck tempi.
Hearing trumpeter Payton play on four straightahead jazz cuts is a treat these days; for the past several years, his creative endeavors have ventured into adjacent musical landscapes. On “Father,” by Roy Hargrove, both Payton and Gonzalez wax lyrically while strolling a luxurious mid-tempo groove. Gonzalez’s “Smile” is an interesting folksong drenched in a Middle-Eastern blues vibe. Payton also buoys Watts’ melodious ballad “412,” soloing ultra-sweetly with little regard for the trumpet’s rep as a machismo purveyor of fanfares.
Reverting to sounds of aggression, “Flatbush Avenue” is among the hardest of the hard-blowing tunes in this spirited set. The Gonzalez trio’s robust wall of sound (with Mashin on drums), in tandem with the trumpet ferocity of Josh Evans, is arguably every bit as compelling as their Coltrane-backing forefathers. —James Rozzi