A sideman’s job in jazz is to do more than simply supports the efforts of the leader standing in front of them, they also have a duty to develop their own artistic sense through the experience. With every new job, they absorb everything that the leader has to offer and then push back with their own personality. For many developing musicians, this isn’t a singular experience – the most defined musicians have spent ample time working with a number of influential leaders. Some folks make a career working for other leaders, and over time, they forge a hugely identifiable and personal sound. At that point, they stand out on any album they touch, helping raise the level of each project with their clear sense of self and artistic mastery. At that point, leading their own recording is a given and the results are often inspiring. They’ve already done the work of defining themselves artistically, so we get to hear a mature and confident collection of music. Saxophonist Ivan Renta has spent years playing alongside some of the most important names in Latin Jazz, and that experience shows on his debut Take Off A Musical Odyssey, as he asserts a strong musical personality through a hard hitting, bold, and exciting performance.
Hard Bop Vocabulary, Clave Sensibility, Passion, & Fire
Renta boldly presents his approach to contemporary Latin Jazz with several uptempo, aggressive, and spontaneous songs. An explosive and complex percussion break sends the group charging into an edgy groove grounded by a fragmented bass line on “Take Off,” while Renta lays down a strong melody filled with both short rhythmic ideas and long flowing phrases.
The saxophonist assertively leaps into his solo, winding around pianist Edsel Gomez’s sharp chordal attacks with flying streams of bebop lines and rhythmic intensity. Gomez builds tension immediately with mind bogglingly syncopated ideas, continually pushing his improvisation into a ferocious climax before falling into a propulsive montuno behind an impressive display of percussion chops from Richie Flores. Gomez and Renta share melodic duties on Chick Corea’s classic composition “Matrix,” fitting the propulsive melody over into the modern Latin Jazz context with a bit of tension and a lot of energy. The saxophonist burns through an extended solo with an aggressive approach that comes alive with hard bop fire and a syncopated connection to the clave, inspiring forceful interaction from the rhythm section. Following Renta’s lead, Gomez races into a powerful improvisation that scorches through intensive idea development that pushes the rest of the band to its limits, opening the way for a brief but smartly melodic solo from bassist Ruben Rodriguez.
A massive percussive break explodes over Rodriguez’s bass vamp, sending the band flying into an intesive momentum on “Nuyorican Groove” while Renta boldly lays down a Coltranesqe minor blues melody. Gomez takes no prisoners as he attacks his solo with a fierce rhythmic energy that inspires ripples of interaction, until Simpson flys into an uptempo swing behind Renta, letting him charge through his improvisation with a modern sense of bop. Rodriguez’s bass takes on a percussive edge as he fills his solo with a mix of melodic runs and drum like attacks, leading the group back to the melody and a ferocious exchange of rhythmic ideas from Simpson and Flores. These tracks find Renta attacking the music at full steam, improvising melodies with with a hard bop vocabulary and a clave driven rhythmic sense, full of passion and fire.
A Thoughtful Artist Expressing Himself Transparently
Renta also demonstrates that he’s a thoughtful artist with a wide range through more reflective pieces, delivered with a bit of edge. The saxophonist provides a tender introduction over sparse rhythm section accompaniment to “Carmen” before moving into a gorgeously lyrical melody that intertwines with a beautiful counter melody from trombonist Luis Bonilla over a gentle danzon rhythm. As the two musicians draw the melody to a close, Gomez moves to the front of the mix with a wonderfully understated solo that combines the introspective nature of the piece with his unique musical approach.Renta and Bonilla take a brief return visit to the melody before wandering into creative lines that twist into a charming collective improvisation full of traditional ideas and clever interplay. There’s a reflective tone to Renta’s playing as he moves through the melody to “Apoyate En Mi Alma” with plenty of space between his phrases and bluesy embellishments reminiscent of Sonny Rollins. The swinging ballad feel behind Renta affords him plenty of room to stretch his phrases, develop ideas across long amounts of time, and separate his playing with carefully placed pauses.
In so many ways, this track stands out on the album, as we experience a more gentle and introspective side of Renta’s playing that shows his deep connection to straight-ahead jazz. Heavy synth patches over the clave driven groove of drummer Ernesto Simpson and Flores’ congas give a rich fusion sound to “Rioma,” which comes alive through a catchy melody that blends long tones and occasional rhythmic edges. The smoky sound of Renta’s tenor sax provides a nice contrast to the synth backdrop, letting him fly above it with long streams of running notes and an undeniable personality. Trumpet player Nelson Jaime moves into his improvisation with a strong conviction, bouncing around the groove with agile dexterity, a good sense of timing, and an open ear to the rhythm section.
There’s a lazy swagger to the rhythm section as Renta carefully shapes a reflective melody full of blues inflections on “Melancolia,” a laid back ballad with plenty of space. Renta embraces the flowing texture of the song, building his solo from spacious licks into screaming runs filled with an deep emotional intensity.
The texture thins again as Gomez moves into his solo, exploring every edge of the harmony, mixing color tones, purposeful dissonance, and sheets of sound into a wonderful statement. A different side to Renta’s musicianship appears on these tracks, showing a musician with the ability to express himself transparently in beautifully exposed settings.
A Thrilling Performance Full Of Artistic Maturity
Building upon his years of experience, Renta delivers an outstanding performance on Take Off A Musical Odyssey that’s full of artistic maturity, masterful playing, and engaging interaction. From being mentored by master musicians like Mario Rivera to playing alongside Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, Arturo O’Farrill and more, Renta has soaked in lessons from the best and applies those ideas with power.There’s a burning sense of New York authenticity to Renta’s playing that overflows with echoes of his experience in the city’s active and knowledgable jazz and Latin music scenes.
Renta has a modern bop flair to his playing that overflows with intensity, leading him through long running phrases and clever note choices, all delivered with a Coltrane edge. He has an intimate understanding of the clave, letting him build rhythmic ideas that both lock directly into the groove and push back against its edges. Gomez serves as a perfect foil to Renta’s improvisational personality, approaching the music from a deeply intellectual perspective that often has him toying with the outer edges of the harmony while racing forward with an exilharating spontaneity and rhythmic momentum. Flores, Rodriguez, and Simpson provide the perfect balance between a smart adherence to the clave and a loosely interactive sense of swing that leaves plenty of breathing room for improvisational expression. All of these elements make Take Off a thrilling musical experience that shows Renta’s readiness for the leadership role; while we certainly hope to hear more of Renta’s presence alongside other musicians, Take Off A Musical Odyssey leaves us hoping for along list of Renta led projects in the near future.
1. Take Off (Ivan Renta)
2. Carmen (Ivan Renta)
3. Matrix (Chick Corea)
4. Nuyorican Groove (Ivan Renta)
5. Rioma (Nelson Jaime)
6. Apoyate en mi alma (Luis Tamargo)
7. Jugando (Ivan Renta)
8. Melancolia (Ivan Renta)
Ivan Renta - tenor sax
Edsel Gomez – piano
Ruben Rodriguez – bass
Ernesto Simpson – drums
Richie Flores – congas
Luis Bonilla – trombone (2)
Giovanni Hildalgo – congas (5)
Nelson Jaime – trumpet (5)
"Hearing is Everything" Peter Watkins