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On his 2018 release Guasábara Puerto Rico, Fernando García cemented his wonderfully nuanced interpretation of a sound created at the crossroads of bomba, the African-rooted rhythm of his native Puerto Rico, and jazz. On his latest outing, Behique (the Taino word for “healer”), the percussionist/composer/arranger broadens his aesthetic by infusing contemporary jazz elements into bomba, not the other way around.
García has refined his vision across four albums as a leader. He’s among a coterie of established and up-and-coming Puerto Rican jazz musicians who commingle folkloric, Afro-Caribbean rhythms and the sizzling swing of a Latin orchestra with contemporary, modal jazz.
Behique brims with alluring rhythmic moments interlaced with sophisticated jazz, even as it explores the sub-contexts and intricacies of hybridization against the backdrop of world events — from the devastating impacts of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico to a global pandemic. Opening track “Alegria” is a case in point. Composed by García during the COVID-19 shutdowns of 2020, the tune swirls with dance-inducing optimism despite what was then a bleak outlook. It’s crafted on the back of an odd-metered ostinato bass line that gives it a slightly off-kilter foundation, and a percolating bomba holandés rhythm, one of the fastest of more than 16 different styles. Claudia Tebar’s honeyed vocals add a layer of warmth. Meanwhile, “Esperanza” exudes mellow vibes as Tebar’s diaphanous vocals and Gabriel Vicens’ electric guitar intertwine on a loop that segues into Jan Kus’ languorous soprano sax before opening onto an oasis of bass, traditional barril drums, trap set and piano.
Centered around a hypnotic melody, the title track features Gabriel Chakarji’s darting piano on a bed of dynamic tempo shifts enveloped by Tebar’s mellifluous scatting and a billowing solo by García behind the trap set; the sound of the native Puerto Rican coquí frog concludes the song. “Meli Ton Ton Be,” “Yubá la Marilé” and “Popurrí de Bomba” lean heavily on tradition, while closing track “Nuevas Vibras” lilts with the breezy cadence of Vicens’ reggae guitar and Chakarji’s trippy Hammond. — Lissette Corsa