Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest Closes Out Stellar 26th Edition
SAN JUAN – The 26th edition of the Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest made a grand closing Sunday, capping off four nights of stellar music and inspired performances at the Tito Puente Amphitheater in San Juan.
The event began Thursday, March 17, with a more experimental offering, which organizers dubbed The Lab. Gifted drummer Henry Cole and his group, Villa Locura, kicked things off. Cole, who was born in the Puerto Rico city of Mayagüez, combined his own songs with interpretations from composers, such as Rafael Hernández, in his repertoire, while accompanied by Mario Castro (tenor sax), Ricardo Pons (baritone sax), Luis Rodríguez (electric bass), Gabriel Vicéns (guitar), Benson Pagán (guitar), Alberto Torrens (“barril de bomba”), Bryant Huffman (shekere), Obanilu Iré Allende (“barril” and vocals), Kily Vializ (percussion and vocals), Jonathan Powell (trumpet), Jeremy Bosh (vocals) and Ángela Vásquez (chorus, dance).
The evening’s second set belonged to Pirulo, the singer and timbales player who has recently taken the salsa world by storm. This time around, though, Pirulo and his group, dubbed the Tribal Jazz Experience, flexed their musical muscles, eschewing most of their usual salsa hits in favor of a more jazz-tinged set that made Pirulo’s JazzFest debut one to remember. The Tribal Jazz Experience featured Alein Rodríguez (piano), Geryonel Rivera (bass), Carlos García (trumpet), Isaí Rodríguez (trombone), Kenny Silva (congas), Luis Emanuelli (minor percussion, chorus), Piro Rodríguez (trumpet), Kalani Trinidad (flute and tenor sax), Carlos Sánchez (percussion) and Pete Ortega (tenor sax).
In keeping with the night’s experimental vibe, Thursday’s final act was DJ Guti Talavera, who delivered a live mix show fusing hip hop and jazz alongside Joel Pierluisi, also known as Danger Garden, on drums, and Damián J. on sax and flute.
Friday night brought matters to more traditional, but no less stellar, flavors of jazz, with the participation of Charlie Sepúlveda & The Turnaround, Ralph Irizarry and Timbalaye and ending with the Luis Salinas Quintet. As reported by Andrea Moya, the second night proved particularly special for the audience and organizers alike.
Although Friday night at the JazzFest set a high very standard, Saturday’s performers proved more than up to the task, starting with Puerto Rican jazz institution José “Furito” Ríos and his band, Standard Bomba. Delivering a blistering set that combined elements of jazz and bomba music, the act featured the event’s biggest “barril de bomba” section, lending a heavy rhythm to Ríos’s inspired saxophone pieces. Joining Ríos were Junior Irizarry (bass), Juan Luis Angleró (piano), Héctor Calderón (“barril”), Omar Pipo Sánchez (barril, vocals, dance), Raúl Rodríguez (barril), Víctor Emanuelli (barril, vocals, dance), Mariela Mendoza (barril, vocals, dance) and Raúl Ríos (trumpet).
Next up was jazz drummer Antonio Sánchez and his group, dubbed Migration. Sánchez, who composed the original soundtrack for the acclaimed movie “Birdman” and has played alongside jazz giants such as Chick Corea, Pat Metheny and Miguel Zenón, played a one-hour-long piece titled “The Meridian Suite” together with John Escreet (piano), Matt Brewer (bass), Thana Alexa (vocals), and Seamus Blake (sax).
Saturday night ended with a set from Cuban jazz master Paquito D’Rivera, who led his ensemble through an eclectic set featuring several of his own compositions as well as a potpourri of popular songs by the likes of Armando Manzanero, all the while showcasing his virtuosic skill with the sax and clarinet. D’Rivera’s group comprised Alex Brown (Piano), Oscar R. Stagnaro (electrc bass), Mark Walker (drums), Pernell Luciano Saturnino (percussion) and Victor Provost (steel drum).
The Sunday event began with a glimpse of the future. At 5 p.m., Puerto Rican students from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, took the stage accompanied by their professor, Eguie Castrillo, who played conga and timbales during their set. The group – consisting of David E. Suleiman (tenor sax), Flavio Lira de Oliveira (bass), Jonathan Salas Rodríguez (drums), Joseph O. Rivera (piano), and Orlando A. Latorre (trumpet) – even drew the attention of jazz master and frequent JazzFest participant Paquito D’Rivera, who watched the students play their set from just right off-stage.
Next, it was Italian jazz singer Roberta Gambarini’s turn to dazzle audiences with her vocal styling and powerful register. Accompanied by Cyrus Chestnut and John Webber on dual pianos, Victor Lewis on drums and James Peterson on sax, Gambarini powered through songs such as “So in Love,” “The Duke,” “Oblivion” and the piano duet “A Time for Love.”
Following Gambarini’s set came arguably the most anticipated moment of the night, with a tribute to legendary Puerto Rican sax player, composer and arranger Ray Santos, courtesy of the Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest Big Band, led by leading jazz exponent and trumpet virtuoso Humberto Ramírez. Shortly into the set, an emotional Santos appeared on stage before a standing ovation and led the band through some of his own compositions, among them “Gershwin” and “Cooking.” Toward the end of the event, Paquito D’Rivera joined the band to play another round of Santos’s compositions, including “Sunny Ray” and “Corchise,” finishing the night’s proceedings in a grand fashion.