by Will Layman for PopMatters.com

Also out last month is a debut from a young Cuban trumpeter and bandleader based in New York—Rodriguez-Pena. His sextet sounds like a bigger band, with Zack O’Farrill’s drums and percussion from Victor Pablo Garcia filling the space with rubbery joy. The front line on Melange is filled out by tenor saxophonist Kazemde George, and the brassy sound is rich on seven originals, and two standards. Wayne Shorter’s “Yes or No” is a great opener—the kind of transformation that was done so well by Jerry Gonzalez (another trumpeter) and the Fort Apache Band. “Like Someone in Love” gets a hip electric bass introduction and chattering rhumba groove, and the arrangement gives each horn a bit alone and then a bit together. 

Casual listeners can be hooked by these known melodies, but the original tunes are terrific as well. Gina D’Soto and Aruan Ortiz create a spare trio with vocals and piano on “Drume Mobila”, a dramatic ballad. And the full band backs Jeremy Bosch’s vocal at the fully salsa-fied ending of “Se Acabo”. But the center of Melange is just the sextet, doing its thing without guests or known tunes. While Cuban influence creeps into every part of the date, it is a mixture like the title suggests. The Rhodes piano and echoplex on the trumpet on “Las Memorias de Las Calles”, for example, is a slice of Christian Scott amidst this band’s joy. It all works.

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