The discography of drummer Ignacio Berroa brims with unalloyed Latin jazz projects, and his two previous albums as a leader highlighted his Cuban roots. So, an album of his playing straight-ahead jazz might seem like a left turn. However, it’s really just a lane change. Berroa’s résumé boasts plenty of work with leaders who, like Dizzy Gillespie, valued his ability to steer effortlessly between swing and salsa, bebop and batá — not to mention his persistently inventive and frequently melodic variations on jazz rhythms, regardless of their source.
Here, Berroa still manages to flip the script. Rather than leading his piano trio — with pianist Martin Bejerano and bassist Josh Allen — through a set of straight-ahead jazz, he selects a program of Cuban favorites, most of them stripped from their traditional rhythmic settings. Only two tracks employ an extra percussionist (Conrado “Coky” Garcia), while the always engaging Rubén Blades provides vocals on another.
It’s an unexpected approach, but it works, illuminating even familiar songs in a sort of bas-relief. The lullaby “Drume Negrita,” normally offered in the languid, stately rhythm known as canción de cuna Afro, gains an undeniable swagger, propelled by Berroa’s hard-charging percolations; the enduring Cuban standard “La Tarde,” a melancholy ballad, becomes a hard-bop anthem with the addition of a four-on-the-floor beat. Even a ballad that retains its slow tempo, “Nuestras Vidas,” offers new insight thanks to Berroa’s decision to place these melodies in a different rhythmic context.
This doesn’t mean that rhythm takes a back seat. Berroa clearly drives the music from behind the traps, and his playing contains plenty of references to these compositions’ origins. Still, when a drummer leads a piano trio, it’s the pianist who mainly fronts the operation, and Bejerano is more than equal to the task. Like Berroa, he skillfully navigates jazz from both sides of the Latin divide, and his solos double down on the leader’s intent, with complex rhythms of his own and lyrical flights to match.
— Neil Tesser For more information, go to https://www.ignacioberroa.com/