Ralph Irizarry & Timbalaye
Best Kept Secret
Shanachie (www.shanachie.com)

cd cover The greatest strength, and weakness, of instrumental jazz is abstraction. Coherent melodic structures serve as springboards into increasingly adventurous and loosely tethered solo gyres; or are they mere pretexts for hermetic self-aggrandizement? The center holds admirably for percussionist Ralph Irizarry's Afro-Cuban jazz combo Timbalaye. Best Kept Secret pulses with happy drive, seamlessly arranged brass, out-there solos, and clever thematic touches, cemented by ever insistent, sometimes teasing percussion.

"Amanecer en el Barrio" accustoms the listener to Timbalaye's musical tactics, a calm melody embellished by a dense, mellow brass arrangement, rhythmic breaks which turn on a dime. But don't get complacent. In "Reverend Clave," a gospelly theme leads in and out of straight jazz, and "Mission Accomplished" repeatedly strips down to the percussive bones of the arrangement, suggesting a privileged glimpse of the clockwork of the universe. "Last Exit" rests on an ominous piano and bass figure over clicking percussion, tight brass figures repeatedly resolving into celebratory chords. "Meztiso" is the most exciting track, joyous fast jazz, interspersed with rumba percussion breaks and interleaved instrumental solos; the center here comes closest to disintegration, a daring performance. The rumba breaks insist on the compatibility of different, more stately rhythm, a theme elaborated at greater length in "Mojo Cubano."

Compelling melodic conceits, driving percussion, and very tight arrangements render the more abstract flights of Best Kept Secret not only accessible, but a continuing source of discovery. - Jim Foley

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