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At 96, drummer Tino Contreras is finally basking in the glow of accolades long overdue as one of Mexico’s most innovative and inexhaustible jazzmen. Known for an eclectic, decadent style not easily defined, the iconic bandleader-composer has maintained a decades-long career recording and performing a steady stream of music that is transcendent, forward-looking, steeped in mysticism and brimming with sex appeal. La Noche de los Dioses, the latest in a rich oeuvre comprising more than 50 albums, is no exception.
Contreras’ new album is an extension and a deepening of his expansive approach. The music is elevated by a stellar band that features Valentino Contreras on electric bass, Carlos Icaza on synthesizers and percussion, Jaime Reyes on piano and keyboard, Emmanuel Laboriel on electric guitar, Luis Calatayud on soprano and tenor sax, Eduardo Flores on bongos, and Marco Gallegos on acoustic guitar. They coalesce around Contreras’ interplanetary vision, propelling him to delve deeper and range farther afield as he conjures sublime moods, lush atmospherics and cosmic vibes.
Seven original cuts are rooted in life-long explorations of themes originating in Aztec mythology, as well as ruminations on humanity and spirituality, as Contreras utilizes a vast palette of sounds across jazz idioms, eras and cultures. The album’s title track sets the luxuriant tone. A sinuously seductive melody draws inspiration from the Aztec god and goddess that represent the sun and war and life and death. The ritualistic “Máscaras Blues” is drenched in dark undertones driven by Calatayud’s lyrically flowing, granular sax infused by Reyes’ Latin tumbao on piano. “Malinche” is an ode to the interpreter who bridged the language divide between Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés and Aztec emperor Moctezuma II. Goaded by a vibrant piano vamp and layers of instrumentation, it swings and sways in a modal framework.
“El Sacrificio” is the essence of Contreras. Polyrhythmic swirls exuding Middle Eastern flair and a bluesy hard-bop groove envelop and saturate the senses. Contreras’ sublime, all-encompassing gaze — both earthy and otherworldly — has claimed its place as a vital, pulsating force in the Latin jazz canon.
— Lissette Corsa