Viva (CAM Jazz)

Diego Urcola, Edward Simon, Avishai Cohen, Antonio Sánchez and Pernell Saturnino

Released September 1, 2006

Grammy Nominee for Best Latin Jazz Album 2007



Diego Urcola’s new record, Viva, features the Grammy nominated trumpeter leading an all-star lineup. “I wanted to put together my dream band,” said Urcola. The core group of Edward Simon, Avishai Cohen, Antonio Sanchez, and Pernel Saturnino are joined by guests, Paquito d’Rivera, Jimmy Heath, Dave Samuels and Conrad Herwig. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Paquito,” Urcola says. “He gave me my first big break, and I got to meet a lot of people through him, including Dave, with whom I’ve been working in the Caribbean Jazz Project for the last three years.” Heath was Urcola’s advisor for his master’s degree at CUNY/City College-Queens College and later an employer in his big band and quintet, while Herwig is a friend via the United Nations Orchestra.
Viva features four Urcola originals; two from fellow Argentine composer/big bandleader Guillermo Klein; a pair from another Argentine composer and one of Urcola’s best friends, Juan Raffo; a piece by Heath, and the Astor Piazzola classic, “Adios Nonino,” a sublime melody the bandoneon master wrote for his father. “I love this tune,” says Urcola. “I wrote this arrangement a few years ago for a concert I did with Paquito.”
On Viva, a sensibility of experimentation is vibrantly apparent throughout. So too is Urcola’s aim to integrate his homeland’s voice into the jazz idiom. “I like to bring the tango flavor from my country into the mix,” he says, then adds, “But foremost I’m a jazz musician.”

Track Listing:

1. Tango Azul (Diego Urcola) 6:54

2. Viva (Diego Urcola) 7:34

3. Afroraffo (Juan “Pollo” Raffo) 5:43

4. El Camino (Guillermo Klein) 8:18

5. Blues for Jimmy (Diego Urcola) 7:09

6. 40/40 (Diego Urcola) 6:46

7. Sound for Sore Ears (Jimmy Heath) 6:59

8. Adios Nonino (Astor Piazzolla) 7:45

9. Gringo Dance (Juan “Pollo” Raffo) 7:39

10. Emilia (Diego Urcola) 4:54


Diego Urcola: trumpet, flugelhorn

Edward Simon: piano

Avishai Cohen: bass

Antonio Sanchez: drums

Pernell Saturnino: percussion

Special Guests

Jimmy Heath: tenor sax

Paquito D’Rivera: alto sax, clarinet

Conrad Herwig: trombone

Dave Samuels: marimba, vibes

Recorded November 18 – 20, 2005 at Bennett Studios, New Jersey

Producer: Ermanno Basso

Recording engineer: Brian Dozoretz

Mastering: Danilo Rossi

Photography: Christopher Drukker


With a predominantly Latino lineup and a title like Viva, one might expect trumpeter Diego Urcola’s latest release to be heavy on joyous Latin rhythms. However, like his earlier work, it’s much broader in scope. His last record, Soundances (Sunnyside, 2003), recorded with an all-Argentinean cast, managed to blur the boundaries between his cultural roots and the urban influences of his current home in New York. If anything, Viva, while not neglecting those roots, finds Urcola in an even more contemporary setting that avoids preconceptions through a mix of straight-ahead swing, abstract impressionism and—yes—even a samba.

Urcola’s core group is responsible for much of this album’s ability to fuse so many influences into something that respects but doesn’t mimic them. Pianist Edward Simon, drummer Antonio Sanchez and bassist Avishai Cohen all have considerable experience inside and outside various cultural traditions. Like Urcola, they’re individually finding new ways to express their backgrounds—stretching the boundaries while subsuming them in something altogether bigger than any single source.

Urcola bookends this program, which includes material by fellow Argentineans Guillermo Klein and Juan Raffo, with two of his own tunes. The opening “Tango Azut is a medium-tempo minor blues in 7/4 where Urcola reacts quickly, delivering a lithe modal solo with brief references to John Coltrane. Simon’s solo reharmonizes the changes so radically that if it weren’t for Cohen’s underlying support, you might lose sight of the fact that this is even a blues at all.

The tender “Emilia closes the album, beginning with Simon’s simple arpeggios and a delicate melody from Urcola and guest clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera. Urcola’s one-year-old daughter “Emilia giggles underneath a soft arco solo from Cohen and a lyrical flugelhorn solo that slowly builds in intensity, supported by Simon’s elegantly unpredictable voicings.

Urcola’s “40/40 represents a new development for him as a writer. Its dark tango-based intro and up-tempo middle section may seem incongruous, but, linked by Simon’s spare chords, they ultimately make perfect sense together. “Blues for Jimmy, which grooves amiably like a classic ’60s Blue Note session, features tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath on one of two guest spots (the other is a buoyant Afro-Cuban look at his own “Sound for Sore Ears that skirts the obvious by shifting gears into a more straightforward swing).

Klein’s title track—a brooding, harmonically complex piece that belies its suggestive name—finds Simon delivering a solo which blends greater abstraction with simple lyricism. Sanchez’s breadth includes textural economy here, but a more characteristic vivacious approach on Raffo’s samba-inflected “Afroraffo, which features brief but impressive solos by Dave Samuels on marimba and D’Rivera, this time on alto sax. While the more orthodox Latin tradition is being kept alive by others, younger artists like Urcola and Simon are redefining its parameters by introducing a more modern bent. Viva may not be the party record its name may suggest, but it’s deceptively accessible and emotionally resonant across a broad spectrum, making it strong followup to the Grammy-nominated Soundances.

John Kelman (AllAboutJazz)