Heralded as a co-founder/leader of NYC’s groundbreaking, Groove Collective, Jay is a multifaceted artist who has lent his signature sound to some of music’s greatest luminaries crossing all boundaries and sounds from Prince, Elvis Costello, The Roots to iconic Latin masters Ray Barretto, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Chucho Valdez – to game changers including Roy Hargrove, Joe Lovano, David Murray, Craig Harris, Wu-Tang Clan, Bernie Worrell, DJ Premiere, DJ Logic, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, and countless others. Mentored as a young boy who came to NYC from Colombia at three years of age, Jay came under the tutelage of Tito D’Rivera (father of Paquito) and master Phil Woods. He became a regular at legendary New York City clubs like Sweet Basil on their Monday nights with the Gil Evans Band and held an equal footing on Wednesday’s Fez at Time Café’s The Mingus Big Band weekly engagement. This was a golden time for music in New York City and Jay’s sound played an integral part of this sonic tapestry.
Jay’s latest CD and first offering as a leader, Your Sound – Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, brings together a brilliant new ensemble that features his rich, melodic and always swinging styles. His repertoire and concepts begin where the voices of Africa meet Debussy and showcases the great jazz legend, Billy Harper, as his tandem saxophonist; Blood Sweat & Tears and Fort Apache Band piano chair master, Larry Willis; the young phenom, bassist Eric Wheeler; Harriet Tubman’s veteran master drummer, J.T. Lewis (Herbie Hancock/Living Colour); and Medeski, Martin & Wood founder, Billy Martin on percussion.
Lauded Jazz Critic Howard Mandel notes in the album’s liner notes: “This troupe imbues their music with drive and nuances that remain vivid beyond the moment of their creation.”
Jay explains, “From the time before you see light, sound is already informing you and training your heart and mind. This record for me is the sound of birth, death, hope, violence, love. Music is seemingly neutral by nature, except for us weavers of sounds and dreams who can evoke music in silence or just in thought, thereby enabling us to take action on wings of hope.”
The opener, “Ghost Dancer,” Rodriguez’s introductory theme to “Congo Dance” originally recorded by multi-reed player, Prince Lasha (from “The Cry,” his 1962 album co-led by saxophonist Sonny Simmons), is akin to the two-horn front line – with Jay blowing freely on flute, while Billy Harper adds his uncanny tenor sound. As Harper steps back, Rodriguez opens up on “Golden Earrings” (written by Victor Young for a 1947 Marlene Dietrich movie) using his tenor, alto and soprano saxophones against a counter-theme that darkens and stiffens the song’s romantic flow. He concentrates on soprano on his own composition “Clouds” – darting, floating, soaring and landing gently after an episode that spotlights the rhythm trio.
On Cole Porter’s classic “All of You,” Jay takes the first tenor solo in a flurry of assertions and appreciations. Billy Harper, having underscored him, reiterates the song to conclude it. Bassist Wheeler picks a furious pace for Your Sound, the horns phrasing together for an Ornette
Coleman effect of highly contrasting, yet truthfully complementary parts, which Willis and Lewis add to, harmolodically, before a beautiful coda of Billy Martin’s small gamelan-like chimes and bells.
“When the Stars Fell” is Rodriguez’s ballad, limned on flute, extended tenderly by Willis, bass and drums and subtle throughout. “Spirits,” another original (with nods to Charles Mingus’ “Haitian Fight Song”) features Rodriguez on alto sax at his most beseechingly funky, with Harper on tenor. Iconic Puerto Rican singer/bandleader Tito Rodriguez’s signature bolero “Inolvidable” (“Unforgettable”) is next. Here, Harper’s tenor is prominent, Jay luxuriates in low registers with his bass clarinet. He picks up his tenor again to lay out the gleaming up tempo “Lover” in tandem with Harper. The two testify soulfully while taking us back to The Manhattan’s R&B classic, “Kiss & Say Goodbye,” rounding out the entire canon of Jay’s musical influences and life in one recording.