Jazz Portraits

Tributes to Jazz Masters

A series celebrating the History of Hard Bop
Events planned every eight weeks

Jazz Portraits: August 23, 1996

A Tribute to Lee Morgan

Gilbert Castellanos - trumpet - Danton Bolder - bass - Steve Feierbend - tenor sax - Willie Jones III - drums - Anthony Smith - piano

Jazz Portraits: December 6, 1996

A Tribute to Elmo Hope

Gilbert Castellanos - trumpet - Rob Thorsen - bass - Daniel Jackson - tenor sax - Brett Sanders - drums - Mike Wofford - piano

Jazz Portraits: February 28, 1997

A Tribute to Art Blakey

Gilbert Castellanos - trumpet - Danton Bolder - bass - Gary Lefebvre - tenor sax - Willie Jones III - drums - Joe Bagg - piano

Jazz Portraits: May 9, 1997

A Tribute to Horace Silver

Gilbert Castellanos - trumpet - Danton Bolder - bass - Hollis Gentry - tenor sax - Chuck McPherson Jr. - drums - Cecelia Coleman - piano

For Blakey Tribute, trumpeter promises to heat up the hard bop

February 1997
San Diego Union / Tribune; "Night & Day" by, Mark Lewis:

Nearly three years ago at the JVC Jazz Festival in New York City, trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos appeared with the Los Angeles quintete Black Note in a performance that came off as pretty shaky. And although alto player James Mahoney and Castellanos soloed at length, they never really told a story.

The forty-five minute appearance was forgivable, for it proved that neo-hard bop isn't an easy ride for imitators. Hard-boppers don't only have to master their instruments, but they have to play as a tight ensemble with drive and fire.

Drummer Art Blakey's 50's and 60's Jazz Messengers are the model bands for today's hard-bop players. The work required to build formal complexity, rythmic intensity and heat doesn't materialize around pickup bands and session players. Although Blakey's personnel changed every few years, all his bands experimented with new introductions to tunes, breaks and patterns, finally putting their stamp on everything they played.

The Messengers created a group sound without sacrificing the "hot-star" improvisor aesthetic that Blakey thought was so necessary for jazz's commercial success. And while Blakey had his share of burning soloists – Clifford Brown, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, among many others – he also pushed his young stars out of their shells and demanded compositions and arrangements from them.

Castellanos, born in 1972 in Guadalajara and raised in Fresno, admires both Blakey's leadership and his bands' power and range of expression. As important as the hard-bop concept figures in his own 2-year-old quintet, it's natural that Castellanos wants to pay homage to one of his idols by re-creating the dual front-line and sound of the Jazz Messengers.

Doing Justice

Tommorow night at El Campo Ruse, the band on stage will consist of Castellanos, drummer Brett Sanders, tenor saxaphonist Gary Lefebvre, pianist Joe Bagg and bassist Danton Bolder. The quintet will tackle Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'" and "Dat Dere," Benny Golson's "Along Came Betty" and Shorter's "Ping Pong," "One for One" and "On the Ginza."

"I want to do justice to the music, to be on the level it was recorded on," Castellanos said about his intentions in using the Messenger arrangements. "I want the same atmosphere, the harmonies, the horns phrasing together, the ensemble playing."

While it's possible that the result could sound like a repeat of the original recordings, skeptics should know that Castellanos nearly blew the walls off El Campo Ruse last August with his Lee Morgan show.

Tommorow night will feature the highly creative Sanders, who knows Blakey's trademark press rolls, fills and underlying patterns. But Sanders is very much his own player, known for fluid chains of ideas that develop, instead of just moving from one section of the kit to the other. When he and Castellanos lock in, the result is a conversation in the language of extended lines, metamorphic patterns, and half-valved and bent notes.

"The drums and the trumpet connect well," says Castellanos. "Incredible trumpet solos have drummers behind them, lik Freddie Hubbard with Art Blakey, or Lee Morgan… I look at them as one. It's the brass instrument itself. When the drummer plays and incredible feel, it makes me feel that I have to finish it off."

That relationship, escalated by an audience hungry for hard bop, should really whip some fire into the music.

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