Chris Cortez, Live at Blue Bamboo Review
by Jeff Becker
Chris Cortez is a guitarist, composer, vocalist, bandleader, arranger, producer, engineer, label head, entrepreneur, and community leader. In 2015 Cortez paused his record label, Blue Bamboo Music, and returned to his hometown of Winter Park, Florida, to build a performing arts center with his wife Melody. After six years of development, the Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts became a community asset in its ability to present a diverse range of artists in an intimate concert setting. Cortez was named one of the most influential people in Central Florida by Winter Park Magazine, and when asked how he accomplished so much, Chris answered, “Start with it’s possible, and the rest is logistics.” As a performer, Cortez is known for his relentless sense of meter and precision expressed through his unique jazz vocabulary. “I realized I had never made a live album and decided that was a challenge I needed to face,” confesses Cortez. That brings us to Cortez’s latest project, Live at Blue Bamboo.
“The Visit (for Pat Martino)” sets the tone for the album with its upbeat waltz feel and Cortez’s driving rhythmic playing. Pianists Bob Thornton adds tasteful fills between the melodies phrases as the band spins this memorable melody out to the solos. Thornton takes the first solo, his lines are clear, and he keeps the energy focused as he moves through the harmony. Cortez’s solo is a fun listening experience as he masterfully weaves motivic ideas through the harmony with his relentless swing. Jeff Sipe keeps the energy up on the drum kit and retains the feel energetic without rushing. The soloist trading phrases with Sipe is a tour de force that brings the song to a climax and re-caps of the melody. Cortez’s homage to Pat Martino is energized with clarity and does a fine job of creating a particular atmosphere that is joyous and swinging.
“Arlington Park” is a feel-good Latin selection with saxophonist Jeff Rupert and trumpeter John DePaola joining the quartet to augment the sounds and excitement. Rupert’s solo builds as his melodies shimmer over the bass and drum figures. Drummer Joel Rosenblatt creates a transfixing rhythmic fabric that enthralls the ensemble as DePaola makes a fine solo statement on his trumpet. Cortez and Thornton further deepen the groove with their accompanying skills.
Live at Blue Bamboo is a balanced live recording that captures the energy of each song’s live performance. The various ensembles of rotating band members give the date variety and different instrumental colors. The driving force behind this successful project is Cortez’s musical vision, playing, and tenacity for creating musical expressions of depth and substance.