Jazz and instrumental music seem to be ever-present within the music happenings of today, most notably coming to a crescendo within the last half a decade or so — with the likes of Snarky Puppy reeling in the Grammys year after year and Hans Zimmer and Ludovico Einaudi selling out venues that any mainstream artist would be proud of. Thus, ‘Tico Groove’ is presented with a welcome to a healthily diverse and optimistic music industry, where it’s South American soul and world-class musicality set it aside as a nostalgic yet unique addition to the Latin-jazz genre.
Thirty-something pianist and composer Esteban Alvarez’s introduction to many will be through the release of ‘Tico Groove’, which is a homage to his Costa Rican roots through his rendition of folkloric standards and original material. However, his relative anonymity is by no means a reflection of his inexperience. As an alumni of University of North Texas alongside the likes of Norah Jones and Michael League, Alvarez has studied under jazz greats such as Dave Brubeck and Chris Potter – whilst his performance aptitude was highlighted by Steinway in 2013 when he was invited to join a word-class roster of performers on their “Steinway Artist” endorsement program.
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Introducing the album, ‘Luna Liberiana’ suitably sets the scene with it’s 90-second introduction laden with nylon-strung guitar arpeggios, cymbal swells and piano flurries which transports the listener to the moonlit music filled streets of Costa Rica. As it develops, it becomes evident the effect legendary Latin drummer Ignacio Berroa has within the band, accenting melodies and adding rhythmic interest at any given chance.
The Bossa-infused rhythms continue within the subsequent tracks and as a theme throughout, in which fluid arrangements allow the virtuosic instrumentalists to inject their own artistic identity. Jazz veteran Lynn Seaton, whom has toured with the Count Basie Orchestra, teases when he takes the melody line within the third track ‘Noche Inolvidable’ – only to resolve this within the following track ‘Pampa’ where he truly showcases his aforementioned virtuosity within a short, yet awe-inspiring double bass solo. Soon after, the first half of the album concludes with the piano ballad ‘Amor de Temporada’, which offers a welcoming breather from the lively instrumental arrangements.
Continuing on into the latter tracks, the pianist showcases alternate methods of arrangement and composition, which includes his own track ‘Mambo Lishan’. In particular, ‘Pasión’ offers an alternate approach to instrumentation, featuring an impressive woodwind arrangement in which clarinet and flute intertwine to offer diversity to a largely piano led album. Overall, the piece is is bouncy, chirpy and has a degree of commerciality to it – which would not be out of place as the backdrop to a TV advert.
Through the combination of Alvarez, Seaton and Berroa – in which Alvarez’s comparative inexperience does not show – an old-school jazz sound is accomplished by their experiences that exerts an undeniable nostalgia. However, where this promotes the concept of a homage to Costa Rican music, it simultaneously limits ‘Tico Groove’ to a confined box of originality. Esteban Alvarez will satisfy the taste of Latin-jazz lovers with his latest album and undoubtedly fulfil his aim of a tribute to Costa Rican folk. Although, as it looks back, it is unlikely to fulfil the appetite of the next generation of jazz enthusiasts who are looking forward for that new sound.
‘Tico Groove’ available to buy and stream now.